Monday, July 24, 2017

Russia Joins Iran and North Korea on US ‘Axis of Evil’ List, Kommersant Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 24 – In his State of the Union address in January 2002, then-US President George W. Bush said Iran, Iraq and North Korea constituted “an axis of evil” because of their efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Now, a Moscow newspaper says, the US Congress has dropped Iraq from the list and put Russia in its place.

            In an article today entitled “The US Congress has Included Russia in the World ‘Axis of Evil’ Together with Iran and North Korea,” a group of journalists at Kommersant says that the House of Representatives has taken this step because of its opposition to a whole range of Russian actions (kommersant.ru/doc/3365795).

                These include, the paper says, Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, its intervention in the Donbass and Syria, its attacks on the cybersecurity of the United States and other countries, a pattern of actions that House leaders say constitutes evidence that Moscow “by various means is threatening its neihgbors and trying actively to undermine American interests.” 

            Not surprisingly, the Moscow paper speculates about how the Trump Administration will likely try to get around any measure the Congress passes and how Moscow may make use of this action, scheduled for a vote tomorrow, to exploit US-EU tensions and to bring a case against Washington at the World Trade Organization.

            But it acknowledges that the House measure which the Senate is likely to approve as well and which President Donald Trump, because of his domestic political difficulties, will have no choice but to sign not only strengthens the West’s sanctions regime against Russia but makes the a matter of law rather than policy, thus restricting Trump’s freedom of action.

            What the article doesn’t say but clearly suggests is that the inclusion of Russia on the “axis of evil” countries is something that will deeply offend most Russians and will only underscore the failure of the Kremlin to achieve a change in American policy by its interference in last year’s US elections.

            Moreover, this article does not mention something that may matter even more for the future.  For the first time since the early years of Gorbachev’s times, American media outlets and American politicians are now routinely referring to Russia as “a hostile foreign power,” a sea change for which Vladimir Putin has only himself to blame.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Kremlin-Promoted Mythologized Russian Past Opens the Way to a Return to Stalinism, Orekh Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 23 – Many expected that with the passage of time, new generations of Russians would reject the worst aspects of their country’s past such as Stalinism, but new polls show that support for Stalin and forgiveness of his crimes is greater among young people than among older groups.

            There are two explanations for this pattern, Moscow commentator Anton Orekh says. The first is the historical cruelty of the Russian people and their willingness to celebrate even the most horrific leaders if they are prepared to act in a cruel fashion toward those they identify as enemies (echo.msk.ru/blog/oreh/2022210-echo/).

The second, he says, is that Russians even when they know the specific facts about the past – and some three-quarters of Russian young people who celebrate Stalin as a great leader do know such facts – subsume them under the Kremlin-promoted mythology about the Russian past as one great triumph after another, interrupted only occasionally by wreckers and foreigners.

Consequently, young Russians who know something about the horrors of the GULAG and who even acknowledge specific crimes by Stalin are inclined to ignore these things as unimportant compared to the magisterial march forward of the Russian state and its cruel power over others.

Thus, young people “simply do not understand what they in fact are approving [because] history in our country always is taught as something out of a comic book or poster. A history of victories, triumphs and achievements” in which “the powers are always inerrant and wise,” the Moscow commentator says.

That means, he continues, that just providing younger Russians with more information about their country’s past will be insufficient to change their assessments of even its worst aspects, Orekh says; and it also means that the Kremlin by the historical images it promotes is opening the way for the rise of a new Stalin and a new Stalinist system. 

Civic and Ethnic Identities Only Two Among Many in Kazakhstan, Sociologist Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 23 – Like their Russian counterparts, Kazakh experts have long debated the relative strength of civic and ethnic attachments, Gulmira Ileuova says; but in many ways doing so has distracted attention from a far more important development: the rise and intensification of a wide variety of identities from familial and local to more global ones.

            Commenting on a recent Almaty roundtable on “Traditional Mentality and Modernization: Pitfalls and Possibilities,” the Kazakh sociologist says her colleagues in the 1990s focused primarily on how strong Soviet identities had remained in Kazakhstan and only later on the balance between civic and ethnic ones (365info.kz/2017/07/kuda-idet-kazahstanskaya-natsiya-ili-kem-sebya-schitayut-kazahstantsy/).

            In the first decade after independence, Kazakhs shifted from identifying with “one large identity” – as Soviets – to another one – as Kazakhstantsy. But over time, “significant changes occurred, migration increased, and local identities strengthened. As a result, the most important question became “’where are you from?’ not ‘who are you?’”

            She argues that this diversity of self-identifications will only increase, something that may open the way to “consolidation on some entirely new basis. But this will happen only after another ten years.” 

            In 2004, Ileuova says she found that 57 percent of citizens of Kazakhstan identified in the first instance as such, 26 percent listed their local identity first, and only 4.9 percent listed ethnic identification. Religion was only rarely a primary identity.

            Civic national identity rose to 71 percent in 2012 before falling back to 62 percent in 2016; local identity fell to 17 percent in the first of these years and then recovered to 23 percent in the latter. Ethnic and religious identities remained relative low, the sociologist reports. But she does note that Kazakhs more than other ethnic groups there are interested in how people identify.

            Ileuova concludes with the following observation: “With time we may encounter definite challenges from the point of view of issues of integrating various groups of the population of the country. At the same time, one cannot fail to note that the developing multiplicity of identities still hasn’t changed interethnic relations.”

But clearly identities will continue to change rather than shift permanently from one thing to another, the sociologist suggests.