Friday, July 29, 2016

A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 42

Paul Goble

         Staunton, July 29 -- The flood of news stories from a country as large, diverse and strange as the Russian Federation often appears to be is far too large for anyone to keep up with. But there needs to be a way to mark those which can’t be discussed in detail but which are too indicative of broader developments to ignore.

          Consequently, Windows on Eurasia presents a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 42nd such compilation. It is only suggestive and far from complete – indeed, once again, one could have put out such a listing every day -- but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.

1.      Will Putin Soon Follow Caligula and Name His Horse to the Duma? One Russian commentator struck by the fact that the only qualification anyone appears to need for Vladimir Putin to appoint him or her to an important position is his friendship suggests that the kremlin leader may soon name his cook or masseuse to a major job (  Such a trend is likely to lead to the further evolution of the Putin cult in Russia (  The Karelian parliament has at least a partial solution: its members have called on the Federal Assembly to adopt a law banning those with mental problems from serving in the Duma (  Meanwhile, the Kremlin has announced that it will no longer provide Putin’s schedule to the media as frequently, a step that may reflect the fact that he is meeting with fewer and fewer people beyond his inner circle (

2.      Monument-al Problems. Few countries have as many problems with statues and monuments as Russia does. Not only is there a controversy over whether to put up a statue of Ivan the Terrible, with advocates saying Putin needs one given that Ivan expanded Russia’s territory ( and opponents saying his dictatorial ways offend them and demanding a referendum (  In other monumental news this week, a Russian court has agreed that Putin masks can be banned (, the prime minister of Tatarstan has refused to lay flowers at the Stalin monument in Mari El (, and activists in the northern capital have called for creating a Lenin theme park in which all the statues from Soviet times can be assembled much as has been done already in Lithuania (  But perhaps the most significant fight over statues this week concerns not politics but prurience: In St. Petersburg, activists have forced a museum to agree to clothe a copy of Michaelangelo’s David lest if offend the sensibilities of children (

3.      ‘There’s Nothing to Eat But Have a Nice Day.’ Forty-one percent of Russians now save they do not have enough money to buy food and clothing, a rise that has prompted some to make bitter fun of Dmitry Medvedev’s recent comment in Russian occupied Crimea ( and and to remind the world that Russian now manufactures nothing but guns and matryoshka dolls ( and that Putin has managed to do what Hitler could not – close the Stalingrad tractor factory (  In other economic news, the government has announced it doesn’t have enough money for vote counting machines (,  three more underwear stores have closed as Russians cut back on that expense and go commando (, and the government has set new minimum prices for champagne as if there is much to celebrate (

4.      Russia’s Christians, Muslims and Jews Want Their Own Foods. The three main religions of Russia have already divided as far as where they bury their dead; now, they are increasingly divided in their demands for food stuffs certified by their respective religious authorities (, yet another real-world indicator of the lack of unity in Russian society.

5.      Have a Russian Grammar Question? Daghestan Opens a Help Hotline. Officials in Daghestan have now set up a special telephone hotline for those who have a question about Russian grammar or usage, an indication of the extent to which Russian language knowledge has deteriorated over the last two decades (

6.      Three Stories from Siberia.  Muscovites frequently ignore Siberia unless and until forest fires there cause smoke to darken the skies over their city ( But this week, there were three more important stories from beyond the Urals: Reindeer herders have had to be evacuated because of an anthrax outbreak (, Siberian Old Believers are now instructing Russian soldiers on how to survive in the taiga (, and the Siberians who were accused of organizing a partisan unit to oppose Moscow have been found not guilty (

7.      As Crimes Against Children Rise, Duma Deputies Want to Decriminalize Family Violence. Crimes against children in Russia increased by 25 percent last year, perhaps a reflection of rising tension within families suffering from falling incomes ( But instead of trying to defend them, several Duma deputies want to eliminate all legal punishments for intra-family violence (  And in a related development involving official support for “traditional” values, the Social Chamber has urged Russian women who are being raped not to fight back too hard lest they provoke their attackers (

8.      Moscow Now Working with Tehran to Block Transcaspian Pipeline Project.  Turkish media outlets are reporting that Russia is now close to achieving its plans to prevent Central Asian countries from shipping their oil and gas westward via the Caucasus. Moscow reportedly is closely coordinating its opposition with a newly supportive Tehran (

9.      More Russians Trust Kadyrov than Do Patriarch Kirill. While neither the Chechen leader nor the Orthodox patriarch is trusted by more than a few percent of Russians, residents of that country now say they trust Ramzan Kadyrov rather than Patriarch Kirill (

10.  Another Stalin-Era Pattern Returns: Ordinary Prisoners Now Put Over Political Ones.  In Soviet times, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and others noted, the communist government viewed ordinary criminals as “socially close” and allowed them to exercise virtually unrestrained violence against “political” criminals who were deemed beyond the pale.  That hierarchy has now returned in some prisons ( Memorial has released the names of 40,000 Stalin-era executioners (

11.  Tomsk Governor Calls for Rating Federal Ministries.  Sergey Zhvachkin, quite possibly fed up with all the ratings Moscow does of his work and that of other governors, has called for rating the various federal ministries with which regional officials have to work.  Not surprisingly, that has triggered a controversy even though it seems unlikely to lead to anything soon (

12.  Gun Prices in Moscow Rise in Response to Demand. Ever more Muscovites want guns for protection or other reasons, and this has led to dramatic price increases in stores in the Russian capital, according to the news agency (

13.   Doping Scandal Seen Leading Russian Athletes to Move Abroad. Most observers are focusing on the immediate consequences of bans on Russian athletes because of Moscow’s state-organized scheme to avoid detection for their use of drugs. But they should be focusing on the longer term impact and that is this: ever more Russian athletes are likely to leave the country and even take the citizenship of another in order to compete without the cloud of Moscow’s criminality hanging over them (

And six more from countries near Russia:

14.  Mosques in Kazakhstan Install ATMs to Encourage Contributions (

15.  NATO Forces to Use Former Soviet Base at Skrunda, Latvia.  In what many will see as a symbolic move, NATO forces will now use a former Soviet base in Latvia (

16.  Vatican Declares Metropolitan Sheptytsky ‘Venerable.’ In the first stage of the process to declare sainthood, Pope Francis has issued a decree calling Metropolitan Andrei Shteptytsky “venerable” for his leadership of the Ukrainian Catholic Church during the first half of the 20th century (

17.  Russian Occupiers in Crimea Attack Google for ‘Topographic Cretinism.’ Now that Google has adopted the Ukrainian names for places in Ukraine’s Crimea, the Russian occupiers have denounced the Internet company for “topographic cretinism” (

18.  Russian Language Faces Real Problems in Central Asia.  Tajikistan has closed down the Russian-language “Komsomolskaya Pravda” in Dushanbe given the declining number of Russian speakers there and that paper’s often anti-Tajik positions ( But there may be problems with the Russian language among Russians there: according to the news agency, the Orthodox metropolitan of Tashkent may lose his job because of what some of his parishioners say is his poor knowledge of Russian (

19.  Estonian Paper Issued in US Now Compiled in Tallinn. Estonia has had a good week: Freedom House declared that it has made more progress toward democracy than the other former Soviet republics or bloc states. But its commitment to the use of the Internet has not only contributed to that but means that an Estonian newspaper that is issued in the US is now put together in Tallinn (

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