Sunday, April 23, 2017

Tearing Down the Khrushchoby – From Renovation to Deportation to Revolution?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 23 – The Kremlin’s backing for Moscow city’s decision to tear down the infamous five-storey “khrushchoby” apartment buildings and for extending that program to other Russian cities represents “renovation” in the eyes of the authorities, “deportation” in those of the residents, and could spark “a revolution,” Igor Yakovenko says.

            Even those who would like to live in better places are angry about the program because it violates their rights and because they can see that the Kremlin is taking this step to push poorer people out of the center of cities to the periphery so that wealthier ones and businesses can move into the spaces they vacate, he says (

            The Moscow commentator points out that the most consequential aspect of the Gaidar reforms was the privatization of people’s residences. “Millions of people became owners of real estate” and that made them feel independent people rather than serfs of the state. Now, the Moscow mayor and the Kremlin leader are seeking to drive them back to their earlier status.

            Moscow city officials have been moving in this direction for some time, doing away with kiosks and other businesses that in any way were at variance with the interests of the top one percent. And now with Putin’s approval, this attack has been broadened from small businesses to ordinary Russians. 

            Given Putin’s support for this attack, Yakovenko says, “it is useless to ask what will be the fate of commercial property in the buildings being torn down,” and “it is useless to ask where the means will come from to move pensioners, invalids and the poor,” especially because the costs of “renovation” far exceed Moscow’s budget.

            What that means in turn is that renovation won’t really happen but instead become another “black hole” for the disappearance of public money into the pockets of the Putin elite. The Russian people are once again being reduced to the status of serfs, and they are at risk not only of losing their residences but their self-respect.

            “For a long time already, no one has been posing questions to Sobyanin and Putin, or even more to the deputies in the State Duma,” the commentator says. But “there is a question for Muscovites” now and residents of other Russian cities in the near future that no one can avoid asking.

            “What else must Putin and his band do in order that a million people will go out into the streets of the capital” to protest the Kremlin’s attack on their rights? What they are doing now should be enough, and a million demonstrators in response is “enough for a start.”

Police Clash with Population in Birobidzhan as National Guard Moves Against Protest Organizer

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 23 – Masked members of Putin’s National Guard on Friday broke into the home of Ivan Prokhodtsev, an entrepreneur who has organized protests against the Birobidzhan authorities, and then engaged in fistfights with some of his employees who came to his defense after the guard shuttered their factory.

            Not surprisingly, the authorities in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast have charged Prokhodtsev with fraud and charged those who came to defense with violating the orders of the police, but reports from the scene, thousands of kilometers from Moscow, suggest that what happened there could be described as a police riot.

            At the very least, it shows what the National Guard thinks it can get away with if it is acting outside of Moscow. And that in turn highlights the growing importance of the Internet and especially regional Internet outlets in exposing what the powers that be are doing given that government media in Moscow won’t mention such incidents or will distort them.

            In this case, the very best report is from the Far East News portal, which described the incident under the following title “Mass Disorders in Birobidzhan Caused by the Armed ‘Seizure of Entrepreneur Ivan Prokhodtsev” ( Moscow outlets that have reported this have clearly relied on that source (  and

Latin Script Making Inroads Even in Belarus and Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 23 – Russian commentators have reacted hysterically to the decisions of Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan to follow the other Turkic republics of the former Soviet space and shift from the Cyrillic-based alphabets Moscow imposed on them in the 1930s to Latin scripts in order to integrate with the Turkic and Western worlds.

            The process of making such transitions, as the experience of those countries shows, is both complicated and expensive, with many people finding it difficult to learn a new alphabet and some choosing not to read as much if publications are in it rather than the one they have been used to.

            But the desire to escape the Soviet past and Moscow’s continuing influence by making a shift away from Cyrillic is powerful and not limited to the Turkic countries.  Some Tajiks seek to go back to the Persido-Arabic script, and even in Belarus where Alyaksandr Lukashenka has said it won’t happen, the Latin script is increasingly making inroads.

            There Belarusian in the Latin script not only appears on the signs of shops but even officially at railroad stations, where the process of Belarusianization has led to Latinization in place of the Cyrillic the Soviets had imposed (

            And despite Russian laws specifying that all official languages in Russia must be in Cyrillic, a law adopted to block Tatarstan from following the path of its Turkic counterparts, interest in the Latin script remains high. In Kazan, for example, scholars use it; and the Karelians have managed to retain their Latin script since their language is not a “government” one.

            The Karelian case is interesting because the Karels are currently the only indigenous people of the Russian Federation who use the Latin script. It was officially adopted in 1989, and in 2007, the republic government declared that it was the script to be used for all dialects of Karelian – allowing Moscow to keep it from becoming an official language of the republic.

            But more significant are developments in Belarus and discussions in Ukraine. Historically, Belarusian was written in both Cyrillic and Latin script. The latter predominated in Western Belarus and in the Belarusian emigration, but from the end of Soviet times, Belarusian publications in the Latin script returned to Belarus itself.

            In 2000, Minsk ordered that all geographic names in the republic be transliterated into the Latin script.  And Belarusian railways and the subway system in Minsk itself began using the Latin script rather than the Cyrillic one for the names of stations. Perhaps because of this, discussions about Latinization have even broken out in Ukraine which lacks a Latin script past.

            Belarusian linguist Vintsuk Vecherka says that the choice of alphabet is a choice of civilization.  “The Russian and then the Soviet empire held under its power peoples of various civilizational identities and sought to unify them including via the alphabet.” But the peoples who were subjected to that process never forgot their pasts.

            Now, “the world of Latin letters is the space of information and information technology … [and] a bridge to other languages which use the Latin script,” he says. The Kremlin fears it and is doing what it can to suppress any discussion about the spread of the Latin scrip to places like Tuva and Buryatia. 

            Vecherka doesn’t expect Belarusian to make a complete break with Cyrillic, at least not any time soon.  But he does believe that despite Lukashenka’s promises and Moscow’s threats, Belarusians will soon be using the two scripts at the same time, something that will help Belarus escape the Russian world and rejoin the international one.