Sunday, March 26, 2017

North Caucasians Refuse to Take Part in Miss Russia Competition



Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 26 – Although they have taken part in Russian beauty contests in the past, no young women from the North Caucasus will participate in the Miss Russia competition this year after leaders of some regional organizations suggested that such beauty contests required those taking part to violate the principles of North Caucasian religion and culture.

            The leaders of the campaign against the participation of North Caucasians in the Miss Russia competition are celebrating what they say is the continuing strength of “public censure” in their societies as a means of maintaining social order. They are certainly correct, but there are at least two more implications of what may seem to many as a marginal issue.

            On the one hand, this outcome shows just how divided the North Caucasus is from the rest of the Russian Federation and may even be an indication that those divisions are deepening. And on the other, it underscores the fact that even in beauty competitions, the creation of any common civic Russian identity almost certainly is doomed to failure.
            According to Larisa Tikhonova, the director of the Miss Russia pageant, North Caucasian women, although they participated last year, won’t this year as a result of the negative reaction of their countrymen in social networks (newsru.com/russia/24mar2017/miss.html and kavkazr.com/a/miss-rossii-vs-mnogonatsionalnost/28388282.html).
            Sultan Togonidze, president of the Russian Congress of Peoples of the Caucasus, explained the situation by saying that “each chooses how to express and position himself or herself. But this concerns the personal life of the individual.” Women from our regions should not take part where they must dress improperly (onkavkaz.com/blogs/666-rossiiskii-kongress-narodov-kavkaza-osudil-uchastie-kavkazskih-devushek-v-konkurse-miss-rossija.html).
            “Today,” he continued, “we can confidently declare that the institution of social shaming has still not disappeared for us as a mechanism for regulating behavior in the traditional and cultural sphere” (nazaccent.ru/content/23558-rknk-o-miss-rossiya-institut-obshestvennogo.html and nazaccent.ru/content/23552-devushki-s-severnogo-kavkaza-ne-budut.html).
            He noted that his organization had taken action against participation in last year’s competition by sending letters to the regional culture ministries asking for clarification of whether the women involved were representing themselves or their republic.  But this year, he pointed out, the effort had attracted the support of many bloggers and web surfers.
            Beauty contests have become political issues in many countries but in none more than Russia. Until 1989, the Miss Russia one took place only among emigres. Then, the event was re-imported to become briefly the Miss USSR competition. Two years later, it became Miss Russia, and as of last year, it was taken over by the Russian culture ministry.
            The finals of the competition this year will take place on April 15, with the winner gaining the right to represent the Russian Federation at the Miss World and Miss Universe competitions later this year.

Stalin’s Great Terror Wasn’t So Bad, Putin TV Suggests



Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 26 – The evolution in official Russian treatment of Stalin continues. He is no longer a tyrant nor is he an effective manager who may have occasionally exceeded the bounds of the acceptable. Now, the late Soviet dictator is being refashioned into a great leader without modification who is unjustly attacked by the opponents of Russia.

            An indication of this latest shift came on Friday night during Roman Babayan’s talk show on Russian central television which was broadcast under the title “1927: Remembering Everything” (youtube.com/watch?v=SfYUwaABXhU and reviewed by Irina Pavlova at ivpavlova.blogspot.com/2017/03/1937.html#more).

            As the US-based Russian historian points out, the Moscow television program was timed to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the February-March 1937 plenum of the Bolshevik Party’s Central Committee, an event which “is typically considered as the beginning of the Great Terror.”

            Babayan’s show was “shocking,” Pavlova continues, because it shows that despite all the available documentation about what happened in the late 1930s, Russians “know practically nothing about it” and are prepared to accept the line, offered by “liberal historian” Yury Pivovarov that 1937 was simply “a quarrel among the ruling group.” 

            Unfortunately, she continues, there is nothing surprising in the fact that “these people even today do not understand what took place, do not see in the arrests of governors, siloviki, and entrepreneurs signs of the very same Great Terror which occurred in 1937 and do not include in this picture the arrests of ordinary Russian citizens and dissidents.”

            And when one individual in the audience, Yan Rachinsky of Memorial, attempted to raise these issues, he was told by the host to shut up because the human rights activist supposedly was only going to present what foreign governments that have given his organization money want him to say.

            To provide a corrective to this latest Moscow re-write of the history of the Soviet past, Pavlova offers a summary of an article she published in Grani a decade ago about the Great Terror, adding some comments about why this misunderstanding of Stalin’s actions is particularly dangerous now (graniru.org/Politics/Russia/m.122961.html).

            The February-March 1937 plenum “marked the beginning of the visible part of the Great Terror,” that is, “the mass destruction of the party-state bureaucracy.” But “this is only part of the truth” about that event, and that “half truth” is leading some now to say that “’it would be good to repeat’” what Stalin did against corrupt figures like Dmitry Medvedev.

            In 1937, the historian points out, “the people also supported the powers that be” at meetings organized by those powers. But “there was also an invisible part of the Great Terror which began in August 1937, a far more massive effort directed at “cleansing” the country of “so-called anti-Soviet elements, including simple people.”

            “No one understood why this happened,” Pavlova says. “Just like today, the powers were absolutely untouchable. No one knew” what the secret police chiefs were saying behind closed doors or what the regime was deciding at Politburo meetings.  And they didn’t see it coming because it was carried out “under the cover of the election campaign to the Soviet parliament.”

            “The Russian powers that be and society in essence have little changed from the times of 1937,” she argues, “even though open borders and the Internet provide incomparably greater opportunities to find out and understand one’s history.” For a brief time at the end of the 1980s, that happened, but “it quickly dissipated to nothing.”

            “No one took responsibility for the crimes. No one undertook a real attempt to condemn the policy of state terror. The historical lesson wasn’t drawn. And as under Stalin, society did not understand the nature and consequences of terror,” just as society now, to judge from this television program, does not understand these things either.

            As a result, what has happened in Russia is the restoration of “the exact same closed mechanism of power with the secret adoption of decisions.” Legal methods of fighting corruption, imposing control on officials and replacing them simply do not work in that kind of system.

            And this has an even more tragic outcome, Pavlova concludes.  “The political technologists, publicists, and ‘opposition figures’ who serve the powers that be are now testing the reaction of society to the recipes of 1937 for ‘cleansing’ the country.”

Two Dictators and Two Responses



Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 26 – For more than two decades, many governments and commentators in the West have allowed themselves to feel morally superior by denouncing Alyaksandr Lukashenka as “the last dictator in Europe,” a title that at least some of them will continue to use following his brutal suppression of demonstrations in Belarusian cities this week.

            But these very same governments and commentators have generally been unwilling to apply the epithet of dictator to Vladimir Putin, preferring instead to keep their options open by calling him a “hybrid” leader, even though his actions including this weekend against protesters across the Russian Federation are quite comparable to Lukashenka’s.

            This represents a kind of double standard that Moscow doesn’t complain about, one driven by the fact that Belarus is a small country while Russia has nuclear weapons. But it is shameful because, as Nadezhda Mandelshtam put it so well a half century ago, only “happy is that country where the despicable is at least despised.”   

            Lukashenka merits condemnation for his dictatorial ways but so too does Putin for his. And indeed as horrific as the Belarusian dictator’s behavior has been, there can be no question that the Russian dictator has been as bad or worse not only in his treatment of his own people but far more in his aggression against Russia’s neighbors and the West.

            The Belarusian dictator showed his true colors yesterday by his suppression of demonstrations in Minsk and other Belarusian cities on the 99th anniversary of that country’s independence. Pictures and stories about his actions are filling the airwaves and the world wide web. (For some examples, see newsland.com/community/politic/content/razgon-aktsii-oppozitsii-v-minske-es-nazval-repressiiami-protiv-svobody/5748846, and graniru.org/Politics/World/Europe/Belarus/m.259739.html).

            On cue and with complete justification, the European Union and the United States called on Lukashenka to release those he has arrested (regnum.ru/news/polit/2254587.html and  charter97.org/ru/news/2017/3/26/244921/).  And human rights groups in Ukraine have called for the reinstitution of EU sanctions on Belarus (khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1490490700).

            But as Ukraine’s Euromaidan press points out, these feel-good declarations may not lead the West to act out of either selfish economic or transparent geopolitical calculations (euromaidanpress.com/2017/03/26/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-lukashenkas-crackdown-on-protesters-in-minsk/#arvlbdata).

            Meanwhile, in Putin’s Russia, the government not only has banned many protest meetings but has arrested many who have showed up at them. So far the stories about these repressions concern only the Russian Far East, but as the day goes on, more such incidents are likely (newsland.com/community/5652/content/massovymi-zaderzhaniiami-zavershilsia-miting-protiv-korruptsii-vo-vladivostoke/5748880).

            What isn’t likely to happen is a clear denunciation of what Putin is doing from most governments or commentators.  (There are some happy exceptions like Senator John McCain in the US.) Instead, one is likely to hear that any “excesses” in the handling of Russian demonstrators should be blamed on local officials rather than the Kremlin.

            That already appears to be happening on another Putin-inspired action: the execution after capture of Islamists who attacked in Chechnya. Blaming Ramzan Kadyrov for such horrors is a convenient way of not making Putin, the person responsible for such actions, accountable (rbc.ru/politics/25/03/2017/58d638bc9a79476117b4d02f?from=main).

                And if the blame can’t be shifted to regional officials, Moscow can dissipate it in a fog of contradictory stories designed to obscure Putin’s guilt be it for the murder of Voronenkov in Kyiv, the continuing Russian aggression in Ukraine, or the subversion by means of economic clout of Western governments and politicians.

            Putin’s regime and its Western backers frequently say that it is time to end “double standards” in the treatment of Russia.  One can only agree: Putin should be held to the same standards as Lukashenka; and if he is, it will be hard to decide which of them deserves the title of “the last dictator in Europe” more.