Friday, July 17, 2009

Window on Eurasia: ‘Does Russia Have the Right to Teach Others How to Live?’ Tajik Asks

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 17 – Russian nationalist writers frequently say things about Central Asians that are deeply offensive to the latter, a phenomenon that is not only generating anti-Russian attitudes among these nations but leading some to ask whether, given such attitudes, Russians are in any position to tell anyone else how to live.
An example of this is provided by a Tajik reaction to a recent article by Aleksandr Dugin in which he suggested that “practically everyone” in Tajikistan is involved in the drug trade and have converted their country into a narcotics corridor through which drugs are passing from Afghanistan to Russia and Europe.
He says that Russian border guards who are responsible for security on the Tajik-Afghan border have been “subject to threats of reprisal” not only from Afghan drug groups but from Tajik ones as well. And Dugin adds, “according to certain sources, 60 percent of the heroin brought into Russia is of Tajik origin.”
Such a broad brush treatment of Central Asian issues is typical not only of Dugin but of many other Russian nationalist writers, and it should come as no surprise that when they encounter such articles on the Internet or in one or another publications, Central Asians themselves are outraged by Russian attitudes.
Earlier this week, a writer in Dushanbe’s “Millat” newspaper reacted to Dugin’s comments about Tajikistan by saying that he had decided to consider “just what kind of a state Russia is” and whether [the Russians] have the moral right [as Dugin and company think] to instruct [Tajiks]” (
The Tajik writer points out that in Russia there are 87 billionaires while 42 million people live on less than 6,000 rubles (180 US dollars) a month. The country’s economy is the size of California’s. Six million Russians are unemployed, while four million people work in the control agencies like the FSB.
The majority of Russians have atheist views, the Tajik author says, and polls show that one in every three believes in magic. Russia ranks second in the world in terms of the production of illegal pharmaceuticals. Its citizens spend three billion US dollars a year in bribes, and 186 heads of Russian educational institutions have been charged with taking bribes.
In terms of the level of freedom of speech, the Tajik says, Russia occupies 147th place out of 180 countries rated. The Russian Internet is dominated by pornographic sites. In Siberia alone, 11,000 villages and 290 cities have disappeared from the map because of demographic and economic collapse.
“Every minute in Russia, five people die, while only three are born,” he says, with mortality costing the country the population of Pskov oblast every year. The number of orphans is approximately one million, and the number of abortions is twice the number of births. And the number of suicides has reached 58,000 every year.
Many of these numbers are tendentious, selective or flat out wrong, but they are no more tendentious, selective or flat out wrong than the statistics and “facts” many Russian authors routinely offer in their discussions of Central Asian countries and even more about Central Asian migrants in Russian cities.
Another Central Asian commentary calls attention to another aspect of this. On the site, Mariya Yanovskaya notes that many Russians believe that their cities are being overrun with Central Asian children who have been abandoned by their mothers and whose keep Russians must now pay for (
That there are some such children, Yanovskaya concedes, is beyond question. Not only are Central Asians subject to the same social pressures that Russians are in this area, but they are also affected by other factors that may push them to abandon their children before returning to their homelands in Central Asia.
Many of the children are the product of rapes that the Central Asian women are unwilling or afraid to report to the Russian authorities, and some of the women have families at home to which bringing back a child could present problems. But the number Central Asians have abandoned is far smaller than the number Russians have both absolutely and relative to the size of their populations.
In the Russian Federation, there are an estimated three to five million unsupervised children, of whom a million are usually classified as orphans, either because their parents are dead or because they have been abandoned. Of those, the overwhelming majority are ethnic Russians, even in cities with sizeable non-Russian populations.
In Moscow, for example, officials say that there are “approximately 1,000” orphans of non-Russian nationality, but of these, only 60 are Kyrgyz, 16 Tajik, and eight Uzbek. And when Yanovskaya queried the Education Ministry about the number from Central Asian she was told there were only 39, a microscopically small figure relatively and absolutely however great the personal tragedies involved.
The point here is less about the specific numbers or even the problems behind them than it is about something that most Russians and many Western analysts do not focus on: When Russian nationalists write nasty things about Central Asians, it not only insults the latter but increasingly is leading Central Asian writers either to correct the record or respond in kind.
And such exchanges will not only deepen suspicions by each group about the other but likely make it more difficult for their governments to cooperate, all the more so given that so many Central Asian migrants who had been working in Russian cities are now returning home with stories of their own about how they have been treated.

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