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Bulletin 6:4 (2012)

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  • Andreas Umland
    THE RUSSIAN NATIONALISM BULLETIN A Biweekly Newsletter of Current Affairs Vol. 6, No. 4(160), 8 March 2012 Compilers: Scott Littlefield & Andreas Umland I
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 8, 2012
      A Biweekly Newsletter of Current Affairs
      Vol. 6, No. 4(160), 8 March 2012
      Compilers: Scott Littlefield & Andreas Umland

      I NEWS: 1 - 15 February 2012

      [NOTE: When viewing an RNB issue in the Messages archive of the homepage and the end of the text is truncated, scroll to the end of the message and click "Expand Messages." Only then, the whole text of the - otherwise truncated - issue will appear. When quoting from an article found here, please, mention the RNB, as the source. Thank you!]

      I NEWS: 1 - 15 February 2012

      State will go on paying its debt to the Church - Putin
      Interfax-Religion, February 2, 2012

      Moscow, February 2, Interfax - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin believes the state is indebted to the Church and promised to continue "paying this debt" and set up new possibilities for traditional religions.
      "A lot has been done to restore religious organizations, to help them get on feet from early 1990s," the Prime said at St. Daniel Monastery yesterday as he came to congratulate Patriarch Kirill on the third anniversary of his enthronement.
      "But for all the previous years the state inflicted so much damage to religious organizations that the state is in debt before the Church and other religious confessions," Putin said.
      He also noted that for last decades a lot has been done, "Orthodox churches, mosques" were restored, "so many mosques have been built as never before." "But I'll say it again: the state is in debt, even if we look at the material side of this matter," he said.
      According to him, restored churches "make only the smallest share of what should be done and what existed before, some things are impossible to restore."
      "We should work to improve the situation," the head of the government said.
      He assured that in future the state will pay much attention to religious sphere and "the same way, quietly and rhythmically pay debts and create possibilities for religious confessions."


      User access to Jehovah's Witnesses website restricted in Transbaikalia
      Interfax-Religion, February 3, 2012

      Chita, February 3, Interfax - The Chita District Court has partially granted a request made by the Transbaikalia Territory prosecutor to restrict user access to the Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia official website, the press service for the territory's prosecutors reported on Friday.
      "The court has ordered OAO Rostelecom, OOO Svyazkomplekt, OAO Loktelecom, OOO Prestizh-Internet and ZAO Transtelecom-Chita to restrict user access to the site on the territory of the Transbaikalia Territory by filtering the name of the site on DNS servers," the report says.
      According to the prosecutors, the website contains links to books that were earlier recognized as extremist material and banned in Russia.
      The court decision can be contested for one month.


      14 Million New Migrants Flocked to Russia in 2011
      By: Natalya Krainova
      The Moscow Times, February 3, 2012

      Almost 14 million foreigners and stateless people legally arrived in Russia last year, the head of the Federal Migration Service said at a news conference Thursday.
      Konstantin Romodanovsky announced that 13.8 million people had legally entered the country in 2011, among them 9.7 million citizens of CIS countries.
      Of the legal immigrants, about 2.7 million were from Ukraine, about 2 million from Uzbekistan, less than 1.5 million from Kazakhstan and just less than 1 million from Tajikistan.
      Azerbaijan, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia all had in the neighborhood of half a million each, according to a diagram presented by Romodanovsky.
      In 2011, migration officials registered almost 10 million foreigners and stateless individuals, almost 810,000 more than in 2010, according to another table on the FMS website.
      The FMS press office could not immediately explain the discrepancy between the 14 million migrants mentioned by Romodanovsky and the 10 million migrants indicated in the table.
      It also couldn't provide a breakdown of how many of those 10 million immigrants arrived legally.
      Migration officials discovered almost 220,000 foreigners and stateless individuals in Russia illegally in 2011, a drop of almost 27,000 from the 2010 figure, according to statistics posted earlier on the FMS website.
      The table didn't say when these illegal immigrants arrived in Russia. Of the 220,000 illegal immigrants, about 76,000 left Russia voluntarily, and almost 29,000 were deported.
      In addition, 428 were held criminally liable, and almost 218,000 were punished for administrative violations, the FMS website said.
      More than 5,600 illegal immigrants who were deported came from countries that have a visa regime with Russia.
      Emigrants from those countries agreed to help authorities after the FMS requested their cooperation, Romodanovsky said, refusing to name the countries.
      Romodanovsky also said Thursday that the FMS is proposing tougher penalties for immigration violations.
      Under the proposed regulations, foreigners who repeatedly violate Russian migration laws would be banned from entering the country for five years instead of three.
      Also, the maximum prison term for organizers of illegal immigration would be increased from five to 10 years.
      Finally, the proposals oblige migrant workers hired to work in public service occupations to pass a Russian language exam.
      Prime Minister Vladimir Putin came up with similar proposals at an FMS meeting last week and in his article published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta on Jan. 23.
      The FMS does not have enough employees to detect all illegal immigrants, Romodanovsky said Thursday.
      About 5,000 migration officials work across Russia, including about 940 in Moscow, the Moscow region, St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region, the FMS chief said.
      A table on the FMS website stated that 6,640 migration officials work across Russia. That figure could not be immediately reconciled with the one given by Romodanovsky.


      Racism and Xenophobia in January 2012
      SOVA Center, February 5, 2012

      January 2012 saw at least 11 people killed and 10 more injured in racist and neo-Nazi attacks in Moscow and St. Petersburg and the Kaliningrad, Voronezh and Tver regions. The victims were non-Slavic individuals and anti-fascist activists, primarily those participating in a January 19 rally in memory of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, the lawyer and journalist who were murdered in broad daylight in Central Moscow by a neo-Nazi in 2009.
      We classified at least four acts of vandalism as motivated by hatred or neo-Nazi ideology. Targets included the "Russia" House of Culture in Serpukhov, the Saratov United Russia party headquarters, the obelisk of St. Petersburg's Smolensk Cemetery, and a cathedral in Petropavlosvk-Kamchatsky that was set on fire.
      There were no convictions in January for racist violence or vandalism that accounted for the hate motive.
      There were, however, at least two convictions against seven people for xenophobic propaganda, in the Arkhangelsk and Ulyanovsk regions. Six individuals were sentenced to compulsory labor under Article 282 of the Criminal Code, while the other was put on probation under both articles 280 and 282. In another case, a graffiti charge in Chita was dropped due to an expired statute of limitations.
      The Federal List of Extremist Materials was updated three times, on January 18, 21 and 23; paragraphs 1067-1072 were added. The updates include xenophobic leaflets of the Pamyat Novosibirsk newspaper, and Muslim materials whose content Sova has not yet had the chance to review.
      The month's most notable event was a pan-Russian series of rallies in memory of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, held on January 19 in at least 23 cities across the country. Moscow's meeting was branded an anti-fascist rally, and between 500-600 people attended.
      The meeting's speakers made a point of addressing the participation of far-right factions in the civil protest movement that has formed following December's fraudulent parliamentary elections. Indeed, though far-right groups have not been present in great numbers at rallies, they have been well represented in the demonstrations' coordination efforts, namely as part of the Initiative Group and its "political faction," the Russian Political Committee.
      In January the Initiative Group assembled a civic movement, and came close to assembling a Civic Council that would be made up of both nationalists and leftist and liberal groups. The movement's Quota group is composed of dedicated nationalists, and includes representatives from the Russian Platform and The Russians movements. It is co-chaired by well-known far-right leaders Konstantin Krylov, Vladimir Tor, Alexander Belov and Dmitry Demushkin.
      Following a statement by President Medvedev on possible reforms to the laws regulating the establishment of political parties, far-right groups got to work building theirs up. The most significant of these is the New Force party project, led by Moscow State University of International Relations professor Valery Solovey.


      Russian patriarch calls Putin era 'miracle of God'
      Reuters, February 8, 2012

      MOSCOW, Feb 8 (Reuters) - The head of the Russian Orthodox church on Wednesday called the 12 years of Vladimir Putin's rule a "miracle of God" and criticised his opponents, at a gathering where religious leaders heaped praise on the prime minister.
      Putin wants support from spiritual figures for his campaign to win his third term in the Kremlin in a March 4 election. He is facing a growing protest movement and needs to consolidate his core support to avoid a runoff.
      Putin has built his campaign on a contrast with the turbulent 1990s, when millions were thrown into poverty after the collapse of the Soviet Union while ethnic conflicts such as the war in Chechnya threatened to tear Russia apart.
      Patriarch Kirill, a bearded cleric seen as a modernising figure in the Russian church, the largest in Orthodox Christianity, compared the period preceding Putin's ascent to power to the 1941 Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.
      "What were the 2000s then? Through a miracle of God, with the active participation of the country's leadership, we managed to exit this horrible, systemic crisis," Kirill told a meeting at the ancient St. Daniel's monastery.
      "I should say it openly as a patriarch who must only tell the truth, not paying attention to the political situation or propaganda, you personally played a massive role in correcting this crooked twist of our history," Kirill said.
      Putin replaced the ailing Boris Yeltsin as president in 2000. He presided over an oil-fuelled economic boom until the global economic crisis struck the country in 2008.
      Banned by the constitution from running for a third consecutive term, Putin stepped down in 2008 but remained in charge in the position of prime minister.
      He looks set to win the election despite the biggest opposition protests of his rule but may be forced into a second round if he fails to get more than 50 percent of the vote in the first.
      Kirill called opposition demands to "ear-piercing shrieks" and said the protesters represented a minority of Russians. He said Western consumer culture was admired by many of Putin's opponents and was a major threat to Russia.
      "The majority, I assure you, are those who agree with what I am saying," Kirill said.
      Kirill's speech was echoed by leaders of other faiths.
      "You had it right, the fact that they (opposition protests) took place on Saturday suggests that it was not a Jewish business," Russia's chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, told Putin.
      "We joked in the synagogue that it would have been better to come for a prayer on that day."
      The gathering was also attended by four muftis from predominantly Muslim Russian regions, a Buddhist lama, an Armenian bishop and representatives of Roman Catholics and other Christian churches.
      "Muslims know you, Muslims trust you, Muslims are wishing you success," said mufti Ravil Gainutdin. Mufti Ismail Berdiyev from the turbulent North Caucasus added: "You are the only person who has shown the United States its place."

      Putin vows Russia will defend persecuted Christians abroad
      Interfax-Religion, February 8, 2012

      Moscow, February 8, Interfax - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised on Wednesday it would be one of the tasks of Russia's foreign policy to defend Christians in other countries who are persecuted for their faith.
      "You needn't have any doubt that that's the way it will be," Putin said at a meeting with Russian religious leaders when Metropolitan Hilarion, foreign relations chief of the Russian Orthodox Church, expressed hope that Russia's government would stand up for persecuted Christian communities abroad.


      Religious values should be promoted more actively via TV - Putin
      Interfax-Religion, February 8, 2012

      Moscow, February 8, Interfax - Russian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin has suggested that "the Church's voice" does not sound often enough on TV and called for allotting more airtime to this issue.
      "The voice of the Church and authoritative church figures and wise tutors and preachers should sound in full force, including certainly on federal television channels," Putin said at a meeting with members of faiths traditional in Russia on Wednesday.
      Putin admitted that some channels allot airtime to religious organizations. "However, this is clearly not enough, and misbalance between what has been regularly annoying people of late and true moral values is so far evident," Putin said.
      The state should and will seek "to ensure appropriate reflection in the informational environment of interests of people who attribute their worldview to values of Orthodoxy and other traditional faiths," he said.


      Majority of Russians believe homosexuality is a vice and speak against gay prides
      Interfax-Religion, February 10, 2012

      Moscow, February 10, Interfax - 74% of Russians consider homosexuality as vicious perversion of human nature while 15% believe it is a normal sexual orientation, the poll by the Politekh social technologies agency commissioned by the Russian Public Chamber shows.
      Besides, 79% of respondents expressed opinion that Russia should not allow unisexual "marriages" (13% spoke for them), authors of the poll told Interfax-Religion on Friday.
      87% of Russians spoke for banning gay parades, 9% stick to the contrary point of view.
      82% of participants in the poll (against 13%) believe that homosexuals should not be allowed to educational and other kind of work with children and youth.
      The poll was conducted by telephone, 1800 people aged over 18 were questioned in 149 cities of 74 subjects of the Russian Federation.


      Medvedev gives high marks to FJCR efforts to maintain ethnic accord in Russia
      Interfax-Religion, February 13, 2012

      Moscow, February 13, Interfax - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has sent a telegram to participants in the 5th congress of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia (FJCR).
      "I am happy to welcome you in Moscow at the congress of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia. Your organization is doing a lot of work to revive the spiritual and cultural traditions of Jews in our country and is doing a lot of things to realize socially important educational and charity programs," the presidential address was quoted as saying by the Kremlin press service on Monday.
      "We greatly appreciate the consistent work done by FJCR to maintain ethnic accord and develop dialogue with other Russian religions and your contribution to the fight against xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and religious intolerance. No doubt, all these things help preserve the cultural diversity of our country, form an atmosphere of mutual respect, and strengthen stability in society," the presidential address reads.
      The president wished the congress participants "fruitful work, success, and all the best."


      Russians Divided on St. Valentine's Day Celebration
      RIA Novosti, February 14, 2012

      MOSCOW, February 14 (RIA Novosti)-Western popular culture has deeply taken root in Russian society since the fall of the Iron Curtain, yet St. Valentine's Day celebrations have more opponents than supporters among Russians, the Superjob research center statistics show.
      According to a recent public poll conducted by the organization, only 39 percent of Russians, most of them youngsters under the age of 24, are planning to celebrate the holiday, while 44 percent said they were not going to.
      When asked why not to present a Valentine gift or a card to their partner, many Russians say "our culture does not benefit from foreign holidays," with 35 percent admitting that they prefer to mark the Day of Family, Love and Faithfulness, a Russian alternative to St. Valentine's Day, on July 8.
      Russia introduced the holiday, also known as the Day of St. Peter and St. Fevronia, the Orthodox patrons of marriage, in 2008. First lady Svetlana Medvedev is among the most active promoters of the new holiday, with a daisy being its symbol instead of a red heart.
      Many Russians view Women's Day on March 8 and Men's Day on February 23, which have been celebrated in Russia for decades, as more suitable days for gifts and celebrations than St. Valentine's Day, the poll shows.
      Yet the number of those who are going to celebrate the holiday has slightly increased from 37 percent last year. A romantic dinner, a bunch of flowers and fluffy toys are among the most popular presents to mark the holiday, while a few Russians, who appear to be more creative, say they are going to present a lottery ticket, a poem or a pet to their beloved ones.

      Jewish group complains nationalism more "acceptable" in Russia
      Interfax-Religion, February 14, 2012

      Moscow, February 14, Interfax - An Orthodox Jewish association in Russia complained that current public protests in the country have served to bring nationalistic movements into the foreground as a side effect.
      "The most unpleasant part of the current public unrest is the fact that nationalistic ideology has become a lot more acceptable for various social strata," Borukh Gorin, spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, told a briefing.
      He argued that neither the government nor the judiciary is to blame for this, but that it is a social issue. "One can be sitting at the same table with people who preach ethnic strife or extremism for some of the most virtuous goals, for example to feed orphans, but to drive out people from the Caucasus at the same time," he said.
      "During December's events [mass protests against alleged fraud during parliamentary elections] we were able to see that people whom, previously, one couldn't have imagined standing on the same floor, happily marching in neighboring columns, and this, in my view, is a very dangerous trend, because this means that a low brand of nationalism has become fairly acceptable," he said.
      He insisted on "greater fastidiousness" because "there can be no good work done by dirty means."
      Gorin was speaking in an interval during a congress of the federation.
      The federation's president, Alexander Boroda, told the congress that "latent anti-Semitism remains an inseparable part of the outlook of many Russians" though only between 2% and 3% of Russians had openly identified themselves as anti-Semites in recent years and the anti-Semitism issue "has vanished from public political debates."
      The speakers at the congress included the head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin.
      He said that Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia "pays special attention to interreligious dialogues in Russia and throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States, has extremely warm feelings for the Russian Jewish community and cooperates with it as with a dialogue partner of many years."
      "We share the same challenges - challenges of unbelief, aggressive immorality, intolerance, division and humiliation of people for ethnic and religious reasons, and attempts to set people against each other in order to fish in troubled waters. We should help each other in trying to remove all those practices from the life of our nation. People professing various religions seek to create our common life in peace and cooperation. I am sure that this is the way it will always be. I welcome the hand of friendship that has been offered to us, and I always offer my own hand," the priest said.
      supreme mufti of Russia's Central Spiritual Muslim Board Talgat Tajuddin also took the floor. Starting his speech with the word "Shalom," he said members of Russia's well-established religious communities "should be in the vanguard of the work of building a healthy society and together counteract attempts to fan intolerance and ethnic strife."


      Report: January 2012
      By: Daniil Meshcheryakov
      UCSJ, February 2012

      Politically active groups continued to advocate for a nationalist agenda within the broader protest movement. In recent discussions organized by the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation called "The Nationalist threat in Russia: Trends, Prospects and Countermeasures" the results of 2011 were discussed, including the rise of xenophobia and a decrease in the number of hate crimes due to better law enforcement.
      January marked the beginning of the electoral campaign in Russia, and the most important political event was the publication of an article by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called "Russia: the National Question" in the state newspaper. The caused a strong reaction from the public. The fact that the Prime Minister published an article on this subject shows its importance. Some of the articles provisions may be included in his presidential platform. However, experts doubt their feasibility. There are human rights concerns as well. It includes a proposal to tighten the registration standards for migrants in order to counter the flow of "illegal migrants" and social conflict. Also, despite the recognition of the importance of education in developing adequate attitudes to cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, Putin chose to focus on efforts such as introducing compulsory examination of migrants in the Russian language, Russian history, and Russian culture.
      The wave of social activism caused by the falsification of election results in December 2011 has resulted in a number of internal discussions within the civic movement on whether or not to cooperate with the nationalists. They have decided not to. The anti-fascist activists were united in honoring the memory of murdered human rights journalists Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova in 22 Russian cities. This caused a violent reaction from the neo-Nazis who attacked participants in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Voronezh.
      On January 21, a rally of several hundred Moscow football fans was organized to demand the investigation of the attack on the fan of the Spartak football team member Alexey Ershov, who was wounded by Andronick Simonyan, an ethnic Armenian, in September, 2010. The protesters made sure that the case had been sent to court, echoing a similar incident last year. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Putin met with football fans regarding the upcoming World Cup to be held in Russia in 2018 and promised to pay proper attention to the "national question" in Russia.
      According to the Sova Center, in January 2012, at least 11 people suffered from racist or neo-Nazi attacks. One native of Azerbaijan was killed and 10 people were assaulted. The federal list of extremist materials, was updated in January four times and seven new items were added to it, including several related to Islamic fundamentalism and a brochure titled "Expansion from the South. Stop it?!".


      Statement in connection with events around referendum in Latvia about giving the status of the second state language to Russian
      MBHR, February 2012

      In Latvia various public forces intently waited for decision of the Constitutional court about fate of nation-wide referendum fixed on February 18 about giving the status of the state language to Russian. And now the Constitutional court of Latvia rejected the demand of 30 deputies of Seim to cancel the referendum.
      In Latvia considerable part of Russian-speaking people has no status of citizenship. Confrontation between nationalistic forces and Russian-speaking population takes place in the country; disturbance of franchise for considerable part of Russian-speaking people is condemned by official European structures. Under these conditions recognition of Russian as the second state language is really crucial for Latvia not just regarding equalization of rights of Lettish-speaking and Russian-speaking population but also for determination of language of official circulation of documents, language of teaching in secondary and higher educational institutions and other most important spheres.
      It is absolutely clear considering the above-stated that Russian-speaking population eagerly desires approval of Russian as the state language. Nationalistic forces categorically demand to leave the single state language, namely Lettish. And such demand is based not just upon unwillingness to recognize the language of "occupants" but also upon quite objective apprehensions: Russian is most wide-spread in a small country, majority of citizens of Latvia speaks it, and its recognition as the official one may promote assimilation of non-Russians into Lettish cultural space and that of the Lettish - into Russian cultural space, with subsequent regretful fate of both Lettish language and ethnic culture.
      Experience of civilized countries in this matter is various: for example, in USA a notion of "state language" is absent at all: English is accepted by default as the most wide-spread language and legalized only in legislation of some states. In Belgium, Canada several languages are recognized as state ones. In France, Germany one state language is recognized.
      Thus, in Latvia various variants of official proportion of languages are possible, and at present fierce combat of warring forces around this serious problem is starting. Nation-wide referendums serve as tools for such combat like this is accepted in civilized countries. Nationalistic forces were collecting signatures for referendum on ban for teaching in Russian at schools, and now, on the initiative of the society "Native language" more than 180 thousand signatures were collected about holding of referendum on introduction of amendments into the Constitution of Latvia giving the status of the second state language to Russian.
      But a serious scandal started at once: nationalistic association "Everything - to Latvia!"-TB/DNNL and majority of deputies from the party of prime-minister "Unity" addressed the Constitutional court (CC) with request to estimate legality of referendum basing upon fundamental laws of Latvia. The application also includes stopping of referendum that was already announced and fixed for February 18. Some other groups in Latvian parliament did not determine their position on this problem yet.
      At the same time opponents of referendum do not conceal their intentions: actually they are interested not in juridical legality of referendum but they wish not to admit Russian as the second state language by all means. As the representative of EL-TB/DNNL group Rainis Dzintars stated, "our wish is to prove as soon as possible that the issue of Lettish as the only state language is not a subject of discussion".
      Leader of society "Native language" Vladimir Linderman stated that in case of cancellation of referendum people would go out to the streets and mass protest actions would begin. Illegitimacy of adoption of statement of nationalistic block was also confirmed by ex-chairman of the CC Aivar Eidzinsh: "The Constitution envisages a specific procedure of initiation of referendum. So it's impossible to assert now that the referendum is anti-constitutional. If CC decides to bring an action it would act against the Constitution itself. This is just a political game. Politicking! The ethnic card is simply played again, that's all. I don't see a juridical ground in application of ethnic block into the CC".
      Director of Moscow bureau for human rights Alexander Brod: "The fate of referendum may be a reason for increase of confrontation in Latvian society. There remains to hope that politicians and public figures of both camps would show wisdom and would not admit dangerous development of events".



      Who is Mr. Navalny?
      By Olga Khvostunova
      Institute of Modern Russia, 18 January 2012

      Anyone with even the slightest interest in Russian politics is familiar with the name Alexei Navalny. During Navalny's relatively short public and political career, he has managed to become the subject of various myths and has been called a social climber, a nationalist, and a populist, among other things. Olga Khvostunova analyzes Alexei Navalny's biography, his interviews and his blog in an attempt to separate myth from reality.
      Subject for Discussion
      Recently Boris Akunin, a well-known Russian writer, called Navalny the brightest contemporary political figure and the only relevant politician in Russia. At the same time, according to April 2011 polls by the Levada Center (a Moscow-based independent research organization), only 6% of Russian citizens knew who Alexei Navalny actually is and what he stands for. Such low awareness might be explained by the fact that Navalny is a new type of politician: he relies mostly on more modern means of communication, such as the Internet and his LiveJournal blog, to stay in touch with his audience. But for the vast majority of Russian citizens, heavily regulated by the Kremlin Russian state television is still the main source of information. In a sense, Navalny was forced to use these new technologies: the lack of freedom of speech in the Russian media forced many opposition leaders like him to transfer their activities to the Internet. If the political and civil rights of Russian citizens were not so infringed upon, if political competition in the country was not so heavily suppressed and freedom of speech was not so limited, if corruption hadn't reached such devastating levels, then Navalny might have chosen a different modus operandi. Observing Navalny's evolution as a public activist, politician, blogger, and whistleblower, the conclusion is evident: the political regime in Russia has transformed from Yeltsin's immature democracy into Putin's rigid authoritarianism, and has thereby created its own enemy and opponent.
      In Russia, mentioning Navalny's name or activities always provokes heated discussions. The range of emotions and opinions on him is decidedly wide, and, as a result of many different interpretations, facts from his biography and his stated positions are often misrepresented. For example, in one of his video lectures, Sergei Kurginyan, a pro-Kremlin political scientist, suggested that Navalny is plotting a revolution in Russia: "What does Mr. Navalny, whose genesis is very clear to me, say? He has a fairly serious international project in mind, one that is not far from what I would call an Egypt/Tunisia-like scenario." While debating the idea of nominating Navalny for President, Vladimir Milov, a politician and opposition leader, doubted his management skills: "Navalny is an awesome leader. But I'd like to remind everyone that being the Russian President is a serious job, and a nomination for Presidential candidacy is a big deal. Some tend to treat it as a 'retweet' or a 'Like' on the social networks." There is also Yevgeny Gontmakher, an economist from Russia's Institute of Modern Development, who criticized Navalny for his nationalism: "Navalny has confirmed his condemnation of the term Rossiyanstvo [being a Russian citizen as opposed to being ethnically Russian - transl.], which he had announced a few years before in the manifesto of the NAROD movement. This is an unacceptable position for any real democrat, Russian or European." The well-known independent political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin, in his article about Navalny, concluded that the latter should not be trusted in general: "What kind of a 'project' is Navalny, for God's sake? He is just an ambitious, combative person with an excessive hunger for power and an obvious adventurous streak. He can transform anyone into a 'project' in order to advance himself. He has no qualms about getting help from the U.S. or from Lubyanka [the name of the Moscow square where the KGB is headquartered - transl.]. […] Navalny is actually telling the truth. But one should be very cautious about trusting him. He is certainly a product of his generation!" In all of the above arguments, one thing remains indisputable: Navalny's role in Russian contemporary political discourse is unique and requires a closer look.
      Grassroots Politics Myth #1: Navalny lacks political experience
      It is a common belief that genuine political activities translate into endless and highly explosive debates, lots of clever public speaking, parliamentary struggles, exciting scandals, intrigues, and embarrassing disclosures. This is how political careers are represented by the media, and, as a French sociologist Pierre Bourdier put it in his article "On Television and Journalism," it is the television media that should be blamed for anchoring this view in the public conscience. In reality, however, about 99% of every politician's daily routine is spent on thorough and boring work, trying to achieve his or her party's goals. For obvious reasons, this work does not qualify as breaking news and never makes it into the contents of newspaper articles. Navalny's name started to get some media attention around 2004. At the time, he had been working for the Yabloko party and had already become head of the party's Moscow chapter. As Navalny explains in Konstantin Voronkov's book Alexei Navalny: Threat to the Crooks and Thieves (2011), his reason for joining Yabloko during the 1999 parliamentary elections was that "it was the only consistent democratic party that spoke about ideas and did not trade them for money, political appointments, or [Presidential] posts." Navalny says he went into politics "to ban certain people from power while empowering a number of others": "We wanted to promote specific candidates, we wanted them to get elected, so that we would be their aides. Most of all, I was interested in how political competition worked, in the strategies of some candidates' fights against other candidates. At the same time, we wanted to show that the election campaign didn't necessarily mean stealing all the money while doing nothing for the people." Political rumors about the Kremlin raising the minimum percentage of votes a party must get in order to enter the State Duma clearly influenced Navalny:"Yabloko had plenty of problems, including the cult of personality of its leader [Grigory] Yavlinsky, the party's partial transformation into a sect, as well as its lack of management. Nevertheless, these were people who staunchly defended their political views. They had an ideology, a value system, and overall, they acted accordingly. […] When rumors about the minimum percentage raise first came out, it was obvious that the restriction was aimed at Yabloko. So I said, I'll join this party on principle! And I did." For seven years (2000-2007), Navalny worked for Yabloko, and for seven years he followed his own daily political routine. Information about his party's projects is not easily found in the Russian media, especially considering that the trend of pushing opposition parties out of the public eye, which first started in the early 2000s, was gathering momentum. Navalny speaks about some of his projects in Voronkov's book: "We were the first to do 'street politics.' I was in charge of organizing public events. […] It might seem strange now, but back then no one was organizing actions on a regular basis. Everyone was doing it to coincide with one or another important anniversary. We, on the other hand, decided to invent occasions. That was very important, since at the time Yabloko was declining in popularity and struggling for survival. [Sergei] Mitrokhin, head of the Moscow chapter, who later replaced Yavlinsky as party president, supported this idea. So when the 2003 elections came, I headed the Moscow campaign office. We worked like crazy. For instance, a van with campaign materials would arrive at 4 am. I would call [Ilya] Yashin and tell him: go to Biriulyovo and unload this van. So then he would go and hire some Tajiks to help him unload this van. Naturally, it was all fueled by pure enthusiasm. Our salary amounted to $300 a month. But we were very politically motivated." Yabloko failed to win Duma seats in the 2003 elections, getting only 4.6% of the votes nationally. The only region where Yabloko performed better than in the previous election was Moscow, where the party managed to get over 10% of the region's votes. Yabloko's success in Moscow allowed Navalny to work with the Committee for Protection of Muscovites, a public organization that fought against illegal infill construction in Moscow. Sergei Mitrokhin was the head of this organization, and Navalny was soon appointed Executive Secretary. During this time, he offered legal support to Muscovites by filing their complaints against illegal construction, attended protests, and communicated with the press. "My work with the Committee for Protections of Muscovites got me started with what I do today," says Navalny. "It is not an abstract ideology, it is about taking a problem and making it political, while trying to solve it at the same time. […] We fight against corruption, against illegal construction, against some very specific people who are responsible for creating this system. One is surrounded by politics and ideology here: if you vote for us and against them, you might get to save your kids' playground." Within several years, the Committee for Protection of Muscovites managed to accumulate a great deal of information and data on illegal infill construction in Moscow. Because of its limited capacities, the Committee's attempts to bring public, media, city hall and prosecutors' attention to this problem weren't always successful: "With its poor financing, Yabloko had to confront the largest development companies in Russia (like DonStroy) and fight the powerful construction lobby of then Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Luzhkov's wife, Yelena Baturina, owned Inteko, a company that controlled one-fifth of the construction market in Moscow. Despite this, Navalny's Committee gained authority and respect among ordinary Muscovites.
      Nationalism or Patriotism? Myth #2: Navalny is a nationalist
      In 2007 Navaly quit Yabloko and, in a rather unexpected turn of events, co-founded NAROD - the Russian national liberation movement (which also means "people" in Russian). (A year earlier, Navalny participated in The Russian March as an observer representing Yabloko. In 2008, he participated in the same march as a member of NAROD.) In associating with nationalists, Navalny shocked and alienated many of his former colleagues and liberal-democratic members of the public at large. But reading the movement's manifesto, it becomes obvious that Navalny's political and ideological views regarding nationalism are not so cut and dry. The key thread running though this manifesto is a strong criticism of the existing regime and of the Russian government, responsible for bringing Russia to the edge of a national catastrophe: "An attempt to create a new modern democratic state on the territory of the former Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic has failed. All the basic attributes of a democracy - the concept of the separation of powers, the institution of free elections, a federal form of government, local self-government, the independence of the courts and many others - were liquidated. They were replaced with the "vertical of power," a system of commercial clans who usurped the functions and powers of government and saw power as a tool for gluttony and not as a tool to serve the population." Further on, NAROD's manifesto calls for political change, so that Russia can start following a truly democratic path. Some major values defended by NAROD include Russian national renaissance, freedom for all, and a fair justice system. By national renaissance they meant "ending Russian civilization's decline and creating the necessary conditions for the preservation and development of the Russian people, their culture, language, and historic territory." It is important to specify that the manifesto's authors do not appeal to conventional nationalist philosophy, nor to ethnic romanticism. Only elements of a liberal, civilized, so-called cultural nationalism can be found in this manifesto, and not one example of the extremism inherent to the National Bolshevik Party. If one examines this manifesto while keeping in mind the general political and social situation in today's Russia, a few contextual issues become obvious. First, the lack of a distinct immigration policy of any kind, the failures of the social reforms and national projects, and the inability of the country's government to conceive a clear national idea or to create an ideology of their own. All these factors increased social tension, which, along with economic and political problems, created a demand for a patriotic rhetoric that, for many reasons, was - in the media and public discourse - labeled as nationalism. Navalny and some of the other NAROD manifesto signers then accused extremist organizations and the authorities of manipulating nationalist themes towards their own interests and causing that drastic switch in the public's perception of nationalism vs. patriotism: "The regime is trying to use people's patriotic sentiments to its own advantage. On the other hand, national provocateurs undermine the country with their xenophobia by calling for violence against 'aliens,' thereby creating an extremely negative image of the nationalists." In Voronkov's book, Navalny clarifies his views: "A modern nationalist differs greatly from what is usually meant by this term. […] A nationalist is a real patriot who puts the interests of the country and of the nation above his own interests. He doesn't think nationalist themes are horrible, frightening or should be a taboo. The Russian modern nationalist is very Europe-oriented, and Russian nationalism is much closer to the European mainstream than it is generally believed to be." Based on Navalny's position on nationalism, one can conclude that due to the multiple meanings and emotional perception of the term in Russia, his views could be - to a certain extent - misinterpreted. What Navalny's views essentially boil down to, is an expression of his patriotism and his aspirations for a European way of development for Russia. Another possible explanation could be that Navalny never really got to the bottom of his own views and understandings of nationalism, possibly because of his active involvement with other projects starting in 2007. These later projects turned him into a symbolic fighter against the corrupt regime. Anti-corruption Blog Myth #3: Navalny is a populist Some claim that the anti-corruption investigations published in Navalny's blog are conducted for his own political gain. But unlike many Russian Internet populists, who shock their audience with scandalous exposures and leaks to the media, Navalny's articles are backed by the diligent labor of his small law firm's employees. Information published on Navalny's blog is the result of long investigations, thorough data collection, the documentation of uncovered violations, and of serious analysis. Even a superficial look at Navalny's blog posts makes it obvious that this man's goals are not to gain some abstract political points but to restore Russian citizens' violated rights and freedoms. Navalny fights against endemic corruption at all levels of state and corporate power. He applies methodic and consistent pressure on the government, requiring it to fulfill its obligations to the people. Alexei Navalny started his blog in the spring of 2006. Initially, his principal goal was to publish transcripts of the weekly Ekho Moskvy radio program "Urban Planning Chronicles" where he participated as a guest commentator, speaking about the work of the Committee for Protection of the Muscovites. "Censorship was the reason I gradually got involved in writing this blog," Navalny explains in Voronkov's book. "There was no other way. Blogs of a similar format are not popular abroad because this kind of information gets published in the press there. But here, all we can do is write blogs. Abroad they have normal, functioning media. These type of scoops are shown on TV. First, my acquaintances started following me on Livejournal - political journalists, activists, et al. […] Over time my blog has become a real media outlet." It is worth mentioning here that after Navalny graduated from [a Moscow] Law School, he also received a degree at the department of Securities and Exchange from the Finance Academy. Navalny admits that he always enjoyed following the stock markets, and then, in 2007, he ended up investing his own money into valuable securities, buying blue chips from major Russian oil companies, such as Gazprom, Rosneft, Transneft, and others. Becoming a minority shareholder allowed Navalny to request various confidential information on these companies' activities. "After becoming a shareholder, thus discovering all the mayhem that went on inside these companies, I thought I should file a lawsuit to defend all of the minority shareholders in Russia, on the account that my rights were violated. I was being robbed by these companies," Navalny says in Voronkov's book. "From a rational perspective, should a person like me, who has $20,000 invested in stocks, sue Gazprom, VTB, Transneft and others? The answer is no. Because all these suits will cost more than the potential dividends and even more than the initial investments. I have always been revolted by these corporate robberies. But I wouldn't go to court just to get my money back. I don't conceal the fact that a large part of my motivation is to litigate on behalf of the people, which is something that most are afraid to do. The issue of oil exports from Russia is not just an issue for the shareholders of Rosneft or Surgutneftegaz. It's a matter of justice. It's about redistributing national wealth. This has always been the main thrust of my approach, even from the beginning. This is why in 2007 I began to write and send out requests to all these companies. Since I never considered my activities private, I started covering them on my blog." Gazprom, a Russian company with a gas monopoly, became the first subject of Navalny's investigations. Navalny got interested in the purchase of gas by Mezhregiongaz, a division of Gazprom, from Novatek, a minor Russian gas company. As a result of this transaction, Navalny explains, the sellers "earned over $50 million, just by reshuffling a few pieces of paper on their desks." Vedomosti (a major Russian newspaper) published a story about this questionable transaction, and at the same time Navalny's blog post from December 2008 became hugely popular on the Russian net. The Moscow Chief Administration of Internal Affairs (CAIA) initiated a criminal case and even brought formal charges against some of the high-profile executives of both Mezhregiongaz and Novatek, but in the end, most of the charges were dropped due to a "lack of evidence." Navalny's second landmark blog post in November 2009 exposed a case of embezzlement in one of Russia's top banks, VTB. The post, entitled "How VTB Robs the Coffers", revealed that in 2007, VTB Leasing (one of VTB's divisions) purchased drill rigs from a Chinese partner through a dummy intermediary company. The price VTB paid for the rigs was 1.5 times the market price. Examining this questionable deal, Navalny came to the conclusion that the embezzlement was worth up to $156 million. He forwarded all the documents regarding the transaction to the Economic Crimes Directorate at the Moscow CAIA. The Directorate then conducted its own investigation, reporting that no violations were found. (Later, however, VTB Leasing president, Andrei Konoplyov, was fired from his position.) Still, the fact that Navalny's post received massive feedback from the Russian LiveJournal community represented another serious step forward in his struggle against endemic corruption in Russian state corporations. Navalny's "How Transneft Robs the Coffers" blog entry represents the third milestone in his struggle against corruption. The article still tops the list of the Russian LiveJournal's most popular blog posts. Then Navalny went on exposing an even larger embezzlement scheme - the one involving Transneft, a Russian oil-transporting monopoly. The scale of this embezzlement was shocking: Navalny claimed that as many as 4 billion dollars were stolen at every stage of Transneft's construction of the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean national pipeline. Navalny obtained this information from leaked reports on the internal audit conducted by Transneft and the Russian Accounts Chamber. Navalny's post received major attention, and federal media outlets even published their own articles on the problem. Even Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was forced to make a public comment, saying that the case should be brought to the attention of federal prosecutors. But such case was never initiated. However, despite strong objections from Transneft CEOs (including President Nikolay Tokarev and Vice President Mikhail Barkov), in early 2011, the Moscow arbitration court compelled the company to give the minutes of relevant Board meetings to shareholders. Navalny called this a big victory. Creating his own method of battling Russian corruption (now called the Navalny method) can be also considered an important victory. Navalny's blog posts contain documents with enough evidence to file hundreds of lawsuits and initiate dozens of court proceedings. In addition, Navalny has also asked his readers to target government agencies and to file multiple complaints and requests. This should push officials do their job, he explains. A Promising Leader In December 2011, thousands and thousands of Russian citizens protested against the fraudulent parliamentary elections. This unprecedented social upheaval demonstrated that the political situation in the country is rapidly changing. Opposition forces that had long been marginalized by Putin's regime had finally gained support from the active sectors of the Russian population. In December 2011 it became evident that Alexei Navalny could be considered one of the opposition leaders. Perhaps, even, the one most feared by the regime. In a recent public lecture at the Moscow "Red October" club, Alexei Navalny somewhat ironically noted: "If there were a thousand people like me, tomorrow we'd be living in a different country." Pavel Ivlev, Executive Director of the Institute of Modern Russia, couldn't agree more: "It is quite possible to defeat Putin's regime this way, and a thousand Navalnys is what we need, in order to win this battle." "If any of the democratic opposition leaders ends up as President, it means the revolution actually took place. And Navalny is one of those leaders - there is no doubt about that," Ivlev continues. "He will become a hero if this revolution, if/when it occurs. No one knows whether blood will be spilled, and whether the big changes will happen tomorrow or in five years from now. But the revolution, whether we like it or not, is inevitable. And Navalny shouldn't be alone in this fight." The Levada Center conducted an interesting poll of the protesters who gathered on Sakharov Avenue on December 24, 2011. When protesters were asked which of the opposition leaders they trusted the most, they responded with journalist Leonid Parfyonov (41%), activist Alexei Navalny (36%), and writer Boris Akunin (35%). At the same time, when asked whom they would vote for in a presidential election, 22% of the respondents chose Navalny, followed closely by his former party boss Grigory Yavlinsky (21%). Navalny is not ashamed of his political ambitions. Recently, he has been heard toying with the idea of running for President. These political ambitions make many people skeptical. Navalny has been accused of being immature, not experienced enough, too straightforward, and uncompromising. And all of this criticism is justified, to a certain degree. But, as mentioned before, the very nature of the current Russian regime (including its corruption, clientelism, and total disregard for public interests) creates a demand for tough opponents. In a sense, it was the Russian authorities themselves who pushed Navalny into the political arena. One could argue that until one of the two collapses (either Navalny or the Russian authorities), the struggle between them will continue. It is obvious that the regime is not planning to withdraw. Navalny, too, claims he is not going to surrender: "I have a clear strategy and principles that I rely upon. There are no 'opportunity windows', and no deadlines. You have to do what you think is right without looking back. [The public] support[s] me today, and I am grateful. And if they stop supporting me, I will continue doing what I do anyway. I will take steps that are painful for authorities, steps to pressure [the regime]. RosPil's goal [the name of Navalny's anti-corruption project] is to apply pressure to specific officials and administrative departments. Our slogan - "United Russia is a party of crooks and thieves" - applies some very real pressure upon a specific party. And I am sure that pressuring authorities is effective. […] I consider a lawsuit against Gazprom effective and beneficial. […] Promoting this campaign about "the party of crooks and thieves" is effective. If they decide to target me and publish biased articles about me, it will only mean that my work is effective. And if/when they initiate a criminal case against me, it will be the highest proof of my efficiency." Mahatma Gandhi once said: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." The latest developments, such as Navalny's imprisonment after the unsanctioned rally on December 5, 2011, and the opening of a criminal case against him, clearly demonstrate that the regime has entered the stage of fighting Navalny. As for who will win this battle in the end, only time will tell.


      Russia risks to lose many disputed territories
      Vadim Trukhachev
      Pravda.Ru, 31.01.2012

      Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov admitted that the issue of ownership of the South Kuril Islands will be decided by a referendum. Meanwhile, Japan is not the only country that makes claims to Russia. Estonia is open about its claims, while Germany and Finland express them indirectly. What would the results of the vote be? Is there a risk that Russia loses the Southern Kuriles, a part of Karelia and the Kaliningrad enclave? Before the beginning of his visit to Japan, Lavrov gave an interview to a Japanese television company NHK. When asked about the status of the South Kuril Islands, Lavrov said: "In our case, this is the matter to be decided through a referendum." However, Lavrov made a reservation that this is not an immediate issue. One way or another, but a high-ranking Russian official for the first time publicly acknowledged that the status of a Russian territory could be decided by popular vote. Meanwhile, Lavrov's words are alarming. Japan is not the only country making territorial claims. Estonia openly calls for the return of Pechora district of Pskov Region. Only four years ago Latvia abandon its claim on Pytalovo district of Pskov region. Some politicians in Finland openly raise the question of the status of Vyborg, some areas of Karelia, and the port of Pechenga in Murmansk region. Kaliningrad region is another matter. Several years ago, a Bundestag representative from the CDU spoke of creating "East Prussia". The hint is clear as once this region had this name as part of Germany. In addition, certain forces in Lithuania call this land "Lithuania Minor". Poland does not express claims to Kaliningrad openly, but among the Poles, too, sometimes one can hear about "Our Krulevets." If the Russian authorities are ready for the referendum, they must be certain that people will vote patriotic. But will they? Japanologist Alexander Kulanov told "Pravda.Ru" about the ways the Japanese are actively fighting for the minds, hearts and wallets of residents of the South Kuril Islands. "The Japanese are actively implementing programs for visa-free regime, inviting residents of the Kurile to visit Japan. The purpose of all this is to show how the Japanese live, and compare it with how they live. In addition, Japanese channels have special broadcast for the Kuril Islands. We have nothing to match this propaganda." Of course, many are drawn to Japan because it is far less expensive to get there than to other regions of Russia. This is true for other residents of the Far East. Unfortunately, the federal government often looks at the provinces from the point of view of natural resources", Kulanov stressed. People on the Sakhalin and Kuril forums now and then express the view that they would live best as part of Japan. It is not confined to the South Kuriles. In spring of 2008 it was reported that nearly half of the population of the Pechora district of Pskov region have acquired Estonian passports. It was reported that the analysis of the situation showed that the Estonian authorities were active in expanding its political, economic, social and informational influence in Pechora region. The propaganda was successful. For example, young people prefer to join the Estonian army over the Russian one. The passport of the neighboring state provides free movement in Europe. Vyborg and Karelia are being actively developed by Finnish companies. Local people are learning the Finnish language. One of the forums openly invites to discuss the pros and cons of joining Finland. Finally, the situation with Kaliningrad region, experiencing the inflow of German capital, is not that simple. The complexity of containment of the region for Russia is that it is cut off from the rest of the country. The enclave is surrounded by the EU, and its citizens regularly travel to Europe - more often than to the "big" Russia. German capital began to flow here long before Lithuania and Poland joined the EU. Germany officially makes no claims to the former East Prussia. Yet, six months ago Der Spiegel magazine published an article stating that in 1990 the USSR wanted to return "Konigsberg" to Germany. The publication wrote that the proposal was contained in a secret telegram sent to the German embassy in Moscow by Mr. Batenin, one of the top Soviet generals at the time. The Germans clarified that Mikhail Gorbachev had nothing to do with it and Batenin acted on his own behalf. The problem exists in the Southern Kuriles, Vyborg and Kaliningrad, and Pechora region. In all cases, the neighbors live better, and the level of corruption is by several orders of magnitude lower than in Russia. Does Russia risk losing the border areas as a result of the referendums? How dangerous is the statement of Lavrov? President of the Academy of Geopolitical Issues, Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, spoke about this in an interview with "Pravda.Ru": "Russia's referendum is likely to confirm that Southern Kuriles belong to Russia. Lavrov's statement, however, is sad as it means that Russia has changed its policy. Previously, we firmly stated that we would not give up the island, and our officials visited there. Now we excite the unhealthy interest of the Japanese to the claim. We must cut off the issue once and for all and have no controversy in this regard. We have something to say to Japan. Soon they will be washed away into the sea. We need to talk about investments in the Far East and cooperation in high technology industries, the establishment of infrastructure there. And only then talk about a referendum. If we do not invest in the regions we will lose them. And not only the Southern Kuriles, but the entire Far East inhabited by the people of other nations. No bans will help. Russia, and not Finland, should develop industry, agriculture, social infrastructure in the north-west Russia. We need a large project that would tie Vyborg to Russia. We need the people of border areas to perceive Russian culture, Russian science, to embroil in the Russian space. At the same time, we must enact laws to toughen the rules of the foreign presence in the border regions. With regard to Kaliningrad, Germany is already engaged in creeping expansion - calmly, but firmly and consistently. As for Russia, there were federal programs for the development of the region, but the money was stolen. Russian business does not go there, there is no state planning. We have opened the doors to foreigners and the Germans are taking advantage of it. We will lose Kaliningrad unless we undertake a comprehensive development plan for the area and attach them to Russia via state business. Because Belarus is the closest to the region geographically, the area must be tied to it as well. We cannot give competitors a reason even to think about the claims against us. "


      Prospects Improve for Mixing Politics and Faith
      By: Alexander Bratersky
      Moscow Times, February 2, 2012

      A Soviet-era dissident and a star of 1990s politics, Viktor Aksyuchits, made his name as the founding father of the Christian Democratic Movement an effort to forge a potent alliance of religion and politics that collapsed when he landed on the wrong side of the 1993 effort to oust Boris Yeltsin.
      The 62-year-old Aksyuchits and his brand of Christian party politics may now be ready for a comeback, invigorated by the promise of easier registration rules for new political parties that has surfaced in the wake of the recent wave of anti-government protests.
      The newly charged political atmosphere has reached all the way to the highest levels of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has been anxious to facilitate contacts with various political groups and politicians from Aksyuchits to protest movement leader Alexei Navalny.
      In January, the Orthodox Church broached the subject of its role in politics when senior religious official Vsevolod Chaplin said on his blog that the church is "positive" about forging a position and is seeking contact with all kinds of groups that share its values.
      "In Russia, a Christian party is not only a possibility it already exists. It only needs to be legalized," Aksyuchits said during a recent round-table discussion in Moscow, on the issue of creating religious-based parties.
      He was referring to the Party of the People's Majority a new political force he said is ready to register as an official party following a recent amendment signed by President Dmitry Medvedev in December. The new rules, which go into effect in 2013, will recognize parties that collect just 500 signatures compared to the 50,000 required today.
      While current Russian law prohibits the creation of religious-based parties, Chaplin who organized the Moscow round table said it can easily be sidestepped.
      "Nothing prohibits creating an Orthodox or Christian party, as long as it is not formally mentioned in the name," said Chaplin, who heads the church department dealing with relations with the government.
      A veteran politician, Aksyuchits has followed that advice to the letter. The program platform for his newly created but not yet registered Party of the People's Majority states that it is based on Christian beliefs, but can include nonbelievers who share its conservative positions.
      Experts say the establishment of religious-based parties can carry risks.
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