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Bulletin 5:1 (2011)

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  • Andreas Umland
    THE RUSSIAN NATIONALISM BULLETIN A Biweekly Newsletter of Current Affairs Vol. 5, No. 1(122), 17 January 2011 Compilers: Scott Littlefield & Andreas Umland I
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 17, 2011
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      A Biweekly Newsletter of Current Affairs
      Vol. 5, No. 1(122), 17 January 2011
      Compilers: Scott Littlefield & Andreas Umland

      I NEWS: 27 December - 14 January 2011

      [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.]

      I NEWS: 27 December - 14 January 2011

      No Need To Be Shy Over Idea Of Russian Nation – Medvedev
      Itar-Tass, December 27, 2010

      MOSCOW, December 27 (Itar-Tass) -- There is no need to be shy over the idea of the Russian nation, said Dmitry Medvedev at the join meeting in the Kremlin of the State Council and the Presidential Commission for Priority National Projects and Demographic Policy. "The idea of the Russian nation is absolutely productive, and there is no need to be shy over it," the president stressed.
      He said, "The destiny of the Soviet Union, in this sense, gives very good food for thought." "We indeed must work out new approaches, and even though we sometimes grinned when talking about the new Soviet commonness, that idea was really absolutely right," Medvedev said. "It is another matter that such commonness cannot arise on paper, cannot emerge at the will of presidents or secretary-generals. This is a result of exhaustive work of society over decades."
      The president also believes the United States' experience could be considered while building inter-ethnic relations. "Let us recall that people of different races and nationalities were apart in the United States just 40 years back. And it is quite a tolerant society now. We should not be shy to learn," he said.
      The president stressed that the migration policy must be "clear so people could understand it." "We cannot block citizens' migration over the country's territory. But we must be in control of what happens. We cannot decide, for instance, that people of one ethnos should live in compact groups in one place, of another in another place," Medvedev said, adding that "we will not deliberately form sort of China towns in Russia."
      "We are a united country and we must realize that we must all learn to live next to one another. This cannot be otherwise, or the worst forecasts that a large number of foreign experts on the Soviet Union made gleefully in the early 90s will come true. You must remember what sorry fate they predicted for the Russian Federation. Incidentally, some representatives of our public and businesses, let us say this bluntly, saw nothing bad in the possibility of our country splitting into several slices, believing it would be easier to govern then and money could be earned quicker."
      "These are not just irresponsible but also absolutely criminal approaches, for while the Soviet Union broke up quite calmly, we realize what consequences for the Russian Federation the implementation of such scenarios would have. Therefore, it is necessary to work cleverly, using force and coercion, wherever needed, to work in the field, directly with people," Medvedev said.

      Medvedev Warns Against Banning Free Movement Of People In Russia
      Itar-Tass, December 27, 2010

      MOSCOW, December 27 (Itar-Tass) -- President Dmitry Medvedev came out against any restrictions on the movement of Russian citizens within the country or assigning a fixed place of residence to people of certain nationalities.
      "We will not be able to block the movement of citizens in the country, but we should control what is going on. We cannot make it a rule that representatives of one ethnic group should live in one assigned place together. The country has gone into motion. We will not deliberately create any Russian china-towns," Medvedev stressed.
      "We should attend to problems of registration and national politics together. The national politics should be clear and explainable to people," he said.
      "We are a single country and should learn to live side by side. Otherwise, the premonitions of a number of analysts in respect to the former Soviet Union might come true," Medvedev warned. He reminded of a sad fate they had predicted for Russia. Medvedev criticized certain politicians and businessmen who believe there is nothing wrong if Russia splits into pieces. "This is not merely an irresponsible, but also a criminal position," Medvedev stressed.
      "If the former Soviet Union disintegrated rather peacefully we realize what consequences might ensue for the Russian Federation if the earlier masterminded scenarios work out," Medvedev warned.
      He called on regional governors to work reasonably, resorting both to power and persuasion. "Despite the fact that heads of territories of the Russian Federation are vested with power given by the president and that they are part of the presidential vertical. You should be maximum close to people. I want you to remember that practically every day," Medvedev said, addressing the regional governors.

      Russians see economic trouble as root of ethnic tensions - poll
      Interfax, December 27, 2010

      Moscow, 27 December: A little more than half of the Russian population, or 51 per cent, and 80 per cent of Muscovites have felt an increase in ethnic tensions in society, shows a public opinion poll conducted by the Levada Centre in 45 regions of the country on 17-21 December.
      A total of 63 per cent of Russians blamed the tensions in society primarily on economic problems. Only 38 per cent of respondents said that this was a purely ethnic issue.
      The level of irritation and hostility felt by Muscovites towards people from the southern republics (presumably Central Asia and the South Caucasus) remains high. A total of 31 per cent of Russians and 27 per cent of Muscovites admitted to feeling irritation and hostility, respectively, towards people from these countries. Less that 1 per cent said that they felt sympathy towards such migrants.
      Across the country, such hostile emotions get far less evident. A total of 57 per cent of respondents said they did not feel any special emotions towards representatives of South Caucasus republics living in Moscow.
      Another 15 per cent were feeling hostility and 14 per cent were experiencing irritation.
      Some 52 per cent of Russians and 71 per cent of Muscovites said that illegal migrants had to be expelled from Russia. Some 27 per cent said that they should be legalized and offered assistance with finding jobs and integrating into Russian society.

      Russia's Public Chamber To Focus On Interethnic Relations In 2011
      January 2, 2011

      MOSCOW, January 2 (Itar-Tass) -- Russia's Public Chamber has pledged to pay special attention to interethnic relations in 2011.
      "In 2011, we will pay special attention to problems of interethnic relations and to the involvement of the youth in such conflicts," the Chamber's deputy secretary Mikhail Ostovsky told Itar-Tass.
      "The recent disorders on Moscow's Manezh Square have laid bare many problems of our society, which must be solved both through legal initiatives and through close work with citizens," he said.
      According to Ostrovsky, developments in the settlement of Kushchevskaya, outbreaks of street violence in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities involving young people "demonstrate problems of spreading the psychology of violence in society." That is why, this year "it is necessary to take every effort to create a special federal agency in the country that would deal with ethnic problems," he noted.
      "In the new year, members of the Public Chamber will do their best to have a law on regional chambers and public councils under municipalities be passed," said Josef Diskin, the chairman of the Public Chamber's commission on civic society. "We must build a system of public control over authorities at all levels," he stressed.

      December 2010: The Year in Review
      SOVA Center, January 3, 2011

      Preliminary data for the year 2010 show that in 44 regions of Russia, racially motivated attacks resulted in the deaths of 37 people, with no fewer than 368 injured.
      In December alone, racist and neo-Nazi violence resulted in the deaths of two people, and the injury of another 68. Compare to December 2009, when three were killed and 22 wounded.
      The upsurge in violence in the final month of 2010 followed the events on Manezh Square and the attacks the next day in Moscow. Beyond the capital, violent incidents were reported in St. Petersburg, Krasnodar, Nizhny Novgorod, and Rostov-on-Don.
      Moscow and the greater Moscow region continued to face the most violence, with 19 killed and 174 injured. In St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region, two were killed and 47 injured. In Nizhny Novgorod, 4 were killed and 17 injured. In Rostov-on-Don, 12 were injured in attacks, and in Tomsk, 13.
      Central Asians continue to be the main targets of xenophobic violence in Russia – 16 were killed and 74 wounded in 2010.
      December's most significant event was the riot on the 11th at Manezh Square in Moscow. A crowd mostly made up of ultra-right activists gathered on Manezh under the pretext of a rally in memory of Egor Sviridov, the soccer fan who was killed during a massive brawl on Kronstadtsky Boulevard a few days prior. The Manezh demonstration led to clashes with riot police and attacks on people of non-Slavic appearance in the Moscow Metro. The following days saw nationalist clashes between Slav and Caucasian groups all over Moscow.
      The events at Manezh brought about a significant public outcry against racism and xenophobia. The "Moscow for All" demonstration was organized as an "answer" to the December 11 riot, and according to various reports, was attended by up to two and a half thousand people.
      In December, at least five cases dealing with violent attacks cited ethnic hatred as a motive: two in Ufa, and one each in Novgorod, Nizhny Novgorod, and St. Petersburg. The charges brought 18 individual convictions, though nine of these received suspended sentences with no additional sanctions.
      For all of 2010, 82 convictions were made in cases involving violence with ethnic hatred as a motive. Two-hundred and eighty-three people were sentenced, including 102 who were either exempt from punishment, or given probation with no further sanctions.
      In December, four charges were issued for the distribution of xenophobic propaganda (Article 282 of the Criminal Code). All four cases brought convictions, though three defendants received suspended sentences. The cases were presented in Astrakhan, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Stavropol and Ufa.
      In 2010 as a whole, there were 52 trials against 62 people given the charge "incitement to hatred" (Article 282). Thirty-one were given probation, and one individual's sentence is unknown. For the charge "public calls to extremist activity" (Article 280), there were five trials against five people, all of whom received suspended sentences. For a combination of both charges, there were six trials: nine individuals were convicted, though four of them were given suspended sentences, and two more were exempt from punishment because a statute of limitations had taken effect.
      One individual was sentenced in December for vandalism motivated by hate (Article 214 part 2). The data for similar crimes in Russia for all of 2010 show a total of six convictions, against eight people, including two who face probation with no further penalty.
      In December, paragraphs 728–748 were added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials, constituting three updates.
      The Federal List of Extremist Materials was updated 27 times in 2010, growing from 467 to 748 entries. As of December 29, four entries have been excluded; 32 entries are invalid because a higher court did not find the texts to be extremist, canceling the decision of a lower regional court. Forty-seven items on the list overlap, not including some multiple entries for the same text with differing or inconclusive official responses – for example, three separate entries for the pamphlet, "You Chose – You Judge."
      The List of Extremist Organizations was also updated in December. The update included a new entry, no. 18: a regional group in Nizhny Novgorod called the "National Socialist Workers' Party of Russia" (NSRPR). As such, as of December 29, the list includes 18 organizations whose activities have been prohibited by a court of law. The continuation of any of their activities will be punishable under Article 282-2 of the Russian Criminal Code, which addresses the operations of extremist organizations.
      In the area of misuse of anti-extremist legislation, all the main areas of abuse remained – criminal and administrative persecution of Muslims and followers of new religious groups including Scientologists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and followers of Said Nursi, etc.; suppression of the National Bolshevik Party; increasing anti-extremist statistics founded in sanctions against schools and libraries, and criminal prosecution of activists for inciting social hatred towards groups such as "the police" and "the state."


      Russian Duma speaker urges care in enforcing religious property restitution law
      Interfax, January 6, 2011

      The authorities should carefully approach the implementation of the law on transferring former religious property from state to religious organizations, Russian State Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov has said. He was addressing journalists on 6 January, as reported by Interfax news agency on the same day.
      Gryzlov said: "I call on executive bodies at all levels to carefully approach the implementation of the law. The transfer process must be transparent and civilized."
      He continued: "At the same time, the implementation of the law must not worsen the situation of those who occupied these buildings before their transfer. MPs will carefully observe this."
      Explaining the law, Gryzlov added: "Special care was devoted to protecting cultural institutions, enterprises and organizations and to providing them with equivalent floor space." He continued: "The law regulates issues of providing access to buildings and premises which a religious organization will receive as well as the safety of property, protection of tenants and the protection of residents that live under the terms of social housing in the premises that are being transferred."
      Speaking about the preservation of monuments, Gryzlov said: "I believe the state and religious organizations are equally interested in the preservation of monuments because this is a part of our history and our great culture."

      Patriarch rejects claims Orthodox Church to blame for Russia's economic problems
      Interfax, January 7, 2011

      Moscow, 7 January: Patriarch of Moscow and All-Russia Kirill vigorously disagrees with those who believe that orthodoxy is the reason for economic failures and Russian's low standard of living.
      In particular, last year well-known TV presenter Vladimir Pozner expressed similar rebukes concerning the Orthodox Church.
      "It is a very strange discussion and, in all likelihood, the people who participated in it don't know history well," the patriarch said in an interview which was shown today on the Rossiya 24 (news) channel. (Passage omitted)
      Patriarch Kirill also noted that in the 19th century Orthodox Russia, which was sometimes still called backward, had the highest GDP in the world, competing with America, "as they say, neck and neck". (Passage omitted)
      "High economic indicators were achieved by enormous efforts, including terror," the patriarch continued, explaining the subsequent collapse of the USSR by the fact that back during the years of the revolution "the backbone of the people's life was destroyed".
      "Today we live worse not because we are Orthodox but because our country has been destroyed twice in a century. And Protestant countries live well not because they are Protestant but because these countries, among other things, did not fight, developed their economy and found themselves in quite favourable conditions," the patriarch summed up, wishing that God gives "us all today the intelligence to preserve our political and social stability and to develop ourselves both spiritually and economically".

      Russian nationalists stand trial for murder
      Reuters, January 11, 2011

      MOSCOW, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Two alleged Russian ultra-nationalists went on trial on Tuesday for the killing of a human rights lawyer and a journalist, who were gunned down in broad daylight not far from the Kremlin.
      The murders of Lawyer Stanislav Markelov and opposition reporter Anastasia Baburova in January 2009 fuelled criticism that the authorities fail to do enough to hunt down those who target rights activists and journalists.
      "The two accused belonged to an ultra-nationalist group. Ethnic hatred was the motive for the crime," Vladimir Zherebyonkov, lawyer for Baburova's family, told Reuters by telephone.
      Although both victims were Russians, Markelov had represented the mother of an anti-fascist campaigner who he said was killed by neo-Nazis.
      He had also contested the early release of a former Russian tank commander imprisoned for the murder of a Chechen girl. Baburova, from the Novaya Gazeta paper, had been walking with him when the pair were killed with an automatic pistol.
      A man and a woman, Nikita Tikhonov and Yevgeniya Khasis, went on trial in a Moscow court on Tuesday charged with their murders. Tikhonov has confessed to involvement. It was not clear if Khasis had yet entered a plea.
      Their lawyers could not be reached for comment.
      Neo-nationalist movements have been gaining ground and boosting their membership numbers in Russia over the past year, shocking authorities and ordinary Russians.
      Racial violence exploded in Moscow in December when some 7,000 soccer fans and nationalists chanting racist slogans demonstrated near Red Square and attacked passers-by who appeared to be non-Slavic.
      Prime Minister Vladimir Putin condemned the unrest, the worst racial violence in Moscow since the fall of the Soviet Union 20 years ago, calling it "xenophobia".
      Early last year a Russian judge who sentenced neo-nationalists for hate crimes, Eduard Chuvashov, was shot dead in the stairwell of his apartment as he left for work. His attackers remain at large.
      Attacks on investigative journalists have made Russia one of the most dangerous places in the world for reporters to work.
      The 2006 high-profile slaying of reporter Anna Politkovskaya, who also worked at Novaya Gazeta, and of rights worker Natalia Estemirova are still unsolved.
      The New York-based Committee (CPJ) ranks Russia eighth on its "Impunity Index", a listing of countries where journalists are killed regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes, placing it after Afghanistan and Nepal.

      Russian police detain 20 in muted nationalist rally
      Reuters, January 11, 2011

      MOSCOW, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Russian police detained at least 20 people in Moscow on Tuesday, media said, aiming to curb neo-nationalist groups involved in the worst racial fighting since the fall of the Soviet Union.
      A heavy presence of around 40 police vans earlier closed part of a central Moscow square to stop nationalists, many dressed in soccer fan garb, from demonstrating.
      Small crowds of young men gathered but 20 were quickly detained, including three leaders of neo-nationalist groups, state-run RIA and Interfax reported.
      Neo-nationalist movements have been gaining ground and boosting their membership numbers over the past year, shocking authorities and many Russians.
      Racial violence exploded on Dec. 11 when some 7,000 soccer fans and nationalists demonstrated in the same spot near Red Square and chanted racist slogans attacking passers-by who appeared to be non-Slavic.
      Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has condemned the unrest, calling it "xenophobia".
      The racial violence was sparked by the Dec. 6 killing of Yegor Sviridov, a Spartak Moscow fan, during a fight between a group of ethnic Russians and migrants from the mainly Muslim North Caucasus, Russia's most volatile region.
      A neo-nationalist group called "The December 11 movement" has since been created, and promises to rally on the 11th of each month, it says on its blog http://community.livejournal.com/dc11/, where on Tuesday it called people from the North Caucasus "murderous occupiers".
      With high unemployment and an Islamist insurgency raging across the North Caucasus, which includes Chechnya, many migrants from the region come to the Russian heartland in search of jobs.
      Many say they are treated with suspicion by ethnic Russians and often face racism.
      The violence and the frequency of racist incidents involving Russian fans have raised concerns about security during the 2018 World Cup, which Russia will host.

      Award to Ukraine wartime nationalist is scrapped
      Reuters, January 12, 2011

      Ukraine on Wednesday officially scrapped the hero status newly-conferred on a wartime nationalist leader -- a move likely to fuel tension between the pro-Russian east and the nationalist west.
      Former President Viktor Yushchenko sparked the ire of east Ukrainians a year ago, shortly before leaving office, by posthumously declaring World War Two nationalist Stepan Bandera a Hero of Ukraine.
      Bandera was the ideological leader of nationalist fighters who fought for independence in western Ukraine in the turbulence leading up to the outbreak of war and beyond.
      Bandera, who was assassinated by the KGB in 1959, has near-saint status among many people there and thousands of Bandera loyalists flock to the capital Kiev every year and tramp through the streets in his honour.
      But this sentiment is not shared by those in the Russian-speaking east of Ukraine who hold views of Soviet history which are closer to those of Moscow.
      Yushchenko's award sparked anger in Russia, where Bandera is regarded as a fascist, and from Poland, where he is blamed for organising the mass killings of Poles. The Simon Wiesenthal centre also expressed outrage, saying Bandera was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews.
      In a statement on Wednesday, the office of President Viktor Yanukovich, who took over from the pro-Western Yushchenko in February and has tilted policy more towards Russia, said the honour conferred on Bandera "has been found invalid by a court ruling".
      This appeared to foreshadow the announcement of a decision by the supreme administrative court which has the authority to scrap presidential decrees.
      Another sign of the recurring regional tension in the ex-Soviet republic surfaced on New Year's Eve when a new monument to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was blown up in a city in central Ukraine.
      Though most Ukrainians see Stalin as a symbol of Russian oppression, communists in the town of Zaporizhya had erected the monument there in his honour last May. It was blown up on Dec. 31 -- the eve of Bandera's birthday. The incident was later officially described as "a terrorist act".

      Same-sex marriages not allowed in Russia - Moscow registrar
      Intefax-Religion, January 13, 2011

      Moscow, January 13, Interfax - Attempts by same-sex couples to marry both in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia are doomed to fail, Irina Muravyova said, head of the Moscow Registry Office.
      "We live in a civil society, we are guided by the federal law, by the Constitution that clearly says: marriage in Russia is between a man and a woman," Muravyova said at a press conference on Thursday.
      There are isolated cases when same-sex couples come to a registry office in order to apply for marriage, but that is pure self-promotion. "Normally, they arrive with the press already behind their shoulders," she said.
      "Such a marriage [same-sex] cannot be contracted in Russia!" Muravyova said.
      Muscovites are not trying to copy residents of certain countries "who enter into marriage with pets, Christmas trees and other animate and inanimate objects," she said
      As for weddings, pets can attend the ceremony as guests: "Small cats and dogs in tuxedos, bow-ties, with a crown on the head," the Moscow registrar said.


      Requiem for killed soccer fan to be held on 40th day after his death
      Interfax-Religion, January 14, 2011

      Moscow, January 14, Interfax - Requiem for killed FC Spartak fan Yegor Sviridov will be held on Saturday, the 40th day of his death at St. Nicholas Church on Three Hills in Moscow.
      nThe service begins in 7:30 p.m., church rector and head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who will chair the service, told an Interfax-Religion correspondent.
      It was earlier reported that soccer fans planned to gather on Saturday to pay their respects to the killed fan in Kronshtadtsky Boulevard and Manezhnaya Square. Security will be stepped up in this connection.
      Sviridov was killed in a fight near 37 Kronshtadtsky Boulevard on Moscow's Golovinsky district at around 12:30 a.m. on December 7, 2010.
      More than ten people were involved in the fight. According to the investigation, Aslan Cherkesov, 26, fired several rubber bullets at Sviridov, who sustained four injuries, including to his head, and died on the spot. His friend was also wounded and hospitalized and is in serious condition.
      The Moscow Savyolovsky Court on December 8 issued an arrest warrant for Aslan Cherkesov, who has origins in Kabardino-Balkaria, who the investigators believe shot Sviridov. He has been charged with murder.
      On Saturday, December 11, 2010, the Moscow Zamoskvoretsky Court arrested two other men, Khasan Ibragimov and Nariman Ismailov, who are suspected of hooliganism and battery. The investigators believe the fight was initiated by Ismailov.
      Later the Zamoskvoretsky Court sanctioned the arrest of Artur Arsibiyev, 20, on the same charges.
      On December 28, 2010, the Zamoskvoretsky Court arrested in absentia two more people involved in the fight. They are Akay Akayev and Ramazan Utarbiyev, both born in Dagestan. They are charged with hooliganism and battery and were put on the international wanted list. A source close to the investigation said on January 12 that Akayev was detained.


      WikiLeaks cables: Russian move to airbrush Stalin 'too half-hearted'
      Diplomats thought Kremlin's efforts to rewrite history would fail, according to US embassy cables
      By David Hearst
      The Guardian, 2 December 2010

      A Kremlin campaign to airbrush Stalin's role in Russian history by dictating how academics write about the past is only half-hearted, US diplomats believe.
      A US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks also shows the diplomats feel there are enough Russians striving to remember the purge victims to combat any rewrite.
      The cable concerns the so-called "history wars", a nationalist campaign which came to the fore last year, but has since dimmed following the rapprochment between Russia and Poland, leading to the first joint commemoration of the Soviet massacre of 22,000 Polish officers in the Katyn forests in 1940.
      The US embassy in Moscow concludes that reports of the death of Russian academic freedom are "greatly exaggerated". The Kremlin, US diplomats say, is willing to adopt nationalist postures when it buttresses political support, but attempts to dictate the academic terms appeared "half-hearted".
      One academic at Moscow State University told the US embassy that Russia lacked a means of enforcing state ideology – that there was no institution tasked to create "historical propoganda" which prevented widespread attacks on academic freedom.
      But some efforts were made. Less than a month after the Kremlin announced a commission to oppose historical falsification and the state duma introduced legislation to "defend Russia's honour" in any debate on the second world war, a Russian Academy of Sciences professor leaked an email to US diplomats.
      It was allegedly from VA Tishkov, chief of history, requesting academics to list all sources of falsification in their fields and inform on students. The trawl for dissidents was cast in the widest possible terms, asking academics to report students who expressed "concepts damaging to Russia's interests".
      Masha Lipman, editor of the journal Pro et Contra, at the Moscow Carnegie Center told the US she personally knew of professors who had received similar memos asking them to identify "falsifiers".
      A similar campaign was waged in the blogosphere. Oleg Panfilov, of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, was quoted as saying a virtual war had flared between pro- and anti-Kremlin bloggers every time someone published papers on the internet detailing Soviet human rights abuses and he suspected at least some pro-Kremlin bloggers were in the pay of the Kremlin and the special services.
      Both Lipman and Panfilov interpret the current campaign, more in terms of the present than the past. Panfilov said the Kremlin fears people learning about past atrocities and crimes, because if they knew the extent of them, the Kremlin would not be able to control the population.
      While US diplomats take these views seriously, they point to a recent poll which found that 27% of Russians still had relatives who perished under Stalin's rule. The cable ends by referring to the poet Anna Akmatova who wrote that when Khrushchev opened the doors to Stalin's prisons, the other half of Russia would come face to face with its victims. The US cable ends on the optimistic thought that the "other half" still exists in Russian society and is not going to go away anytime soon.


      Act of God Not for the Good. The Heart of Russian Society Is Hardening Against the Backdrop of the Revival of the Church
      Editorial comment
      Nezavisimaya Gazeta , December 17, 2010

      "It is simply that the airwaves are vibrating -- not the air, but the spiritual airwaves," Patriarch Kirill rapturously shared his impressions from the Kuban Choir, which had delighted the ears of the guests of the Krasnodar Governor on 6 December at a celebratory reception. "It is important that precisely in Kuban, which was at one time subjected to terrible torments, the eradication of the faith, that the faith has once again been revived," the Preceptor of the Church stressed.
      In those days, the Kuban "airwaves" were desperately "vibrating" with news on the course of the investigations of the crimes of a gang in the Cossack village of Kushchevskaya. More and more new facts keep coming to light of unprecedented brutalities by the village residents; their cruelty, it is said, is enough to horrify the crime bosses of the old, Soviet, ilk. Journalists and bloggers are discussing the silence of the local clergy on the subject of the gang's evil deeds. It is not difficult to notice that in the Cossack village of Kushchevskaya, the Orthodox faith has not simply been revived; it has been experiencing a real triumph. The splendid Ioanno-Bogoslovskiy Church, with its snow-white colonnade, built on the basis of a blueprint by its enthusiast prior, the members of the gang were compelled to visit on holidays. As journalists ascertained, the chief of the gang, Tsapok, composed a dissertation, where he underlays his theory of the governance of the peasant folk with a spiritual, Christian basis. "Kushchevskaya's forests are Heaven's tabernacles," the local site writes with pride.
      "Our people have a strong, clear Christian system of values," Patriarch Kirill says, in the meantime, addressing Kuban's residents. "The Church preaches not in order to become strong; churches are necessary not in order to collect money in them, not so that the ruling bishop should feel like a kind of parochial prince. Today we create all of this so as to restore a moral sense in people." Evidently, in Kuban's residents, the moral sense is not sleeping, since one immediately hears praise and gratitude from the Patriarch's lips, addressed to Metropolitan of Yekaterinodar and Kuban Isidor (Kirichenko).
      "Enlightened (prosvyachshennyy) patriotism is the kind of patriotism that is based on high morals, on faith, on the sanctity of life; it is the kind of patriotism that is inspired by the highest values, which have been transmitted to us, people, by God Himself" -- this is already from the Patriarch's speech last Monday at the Kremlin at a ceremony awarding him the Andrey Pervozvannyy Prize for Faith and Constancy. The Head of the Church clarifies that it was no accident that he used the word "prosvyashchennyy" with the letter "ya" -- from the word "sanctity" ("svyatost"). By this moment, the country has for the third day now been discussing Saturday's carnage on Manezh Square. The performance of the Moscow nationalists and soccer fans has been followed by acts of defiance in regions of Russia. Young people, beating and killing chance passersby of non-Russian appearance, understand the word "patriotism" in their own way. Evidently, their sense is not "prosvyashchennyy" with the letter "ya," and certainly it is not "enlightened" ("prosveshchennyy") with the letter "e."
      One would like very much to know the nature of the correlation between the "clear Christian system of values" of our people and the bloody spirit of Kushchevskaya and the two-fisted patriotism of the rebellious young people of Moscow, and also the evil deeds of thousands of other criminals killing, robbing, torturing, and violating people across the whole country -- and at the same time visiting churches, making donations to the clergy. How many more hospitals, kindergartens, and museums it is necessary to hand over to the Church in order for this to resound in the hearts of Russian citizens with a growth of moral feeling. In general, are the spiritual leaders satisfied with their achievements in the preaching of the religion of love?
      One would like to hear not a speech on the majesty and strength of the Church in our days, but a sincere confession of the sins of their own and of those of society. For example, an acknowledgment that words and deeds in real life always diverge, it is necessary to reconcile oneself with this, and it remains only to collect money in the churches. Or that the churches in the Russian villages are simply picturesque ethnographic scenery. Or repentance for the fact that the strong Church is listening to the wrong "airwaves." And is living in a different world than its flock, where there is no evil, there is only quietude, and a smooth surface, and God's blessings. Then there really is nothing to talk about!

      Why western authors are in love with Mother Russia: Novelists from Le Carré to Amis have an obsession with Russia. Small wonder: it's fertile territory for fiction
      By AD Miller
      The Observer, 19 December 2010

      A man walks into a room. Let's say he's 50-ish, greying, slightly dishevelled. What is his story? If he's a Russian, one of his grandparents might have died in the siege of Leningrad and another in the purges. After the grind and humdrum heroisms of the Soviet Union, he might have lost his savings and home to the hyperinflation and rackets of the 90s. Maybe along the way he fell in love, had children, did the commonplace things that make up the whole drama of lives lived elsewhere.
      All lives are interesting, and one of the jobs of fiction is to prove it. Still, that task is easier if they are Russian – which helps to explain why, as well as spewing out renegade oligarchs and rogue spooks, Russia has recently inspired an abundance of novels. I mean, specifically, novels set there by English-speaking authors, from thrillers such as Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko mysteries, to Helen Dunmore's Leningrad books. (By contrast, surprisingly few home-grown, contemporary Russian writers have found wide foreign readerships. The Putin era has not in general been conducive to great literature.) The vogue for Russian-themed novels reflects Russia's enticing turbulence. But I think it also tells us something about our own moral anxieties.
      The country's appeal to Olga Grushin, Gary Shteyngart and David Bezmozgis is easy to understand. They were all born in the Soviet Union, emigrating to North America as children. They inherited a folk memory of suffering, plus the minutely descriptive Russian language. The dying Soviet Union, in which shortages could sometimes be overcome by ruses and yarns, was a natural breeding ground for fabulists. Finally, a system that had seemed adamantine crumbled; the world broke open (Grushin's The Dream Life of Sukhanov wonderfully captures the disorientation caused by this rupture). Add the galvanising effects of immigration to that legacy and you have a propitious background for novelists.
      Writers born elsewhere tend to be captivated first by the grandeur and reckless honesty of the great Russian authors; some might always view the country though the prism of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov and Vasily Grossman. But modern novelists are also drawn in by the same historical electricity and convulsions that fed those giants' work. Think of James Meek's magnificent civil-war saga The People's Act of Love, which features castrates, cannibalism and stranded foreign armies: all-too-real elements of the Russian 20th century, with its camps, famines and mass murder, the whole doomed, rotten Soviet experiment.
      Relatively calm though the country's recent past has been, and volatile as other parts of the post-9/11 world have become, Russia's sheer eventfulness is still a pull. It is still more an empire than a state, with an empire's patchwork variety and quirks. As an old joke has it, Russia is again in a period of transition between two periods of transition. It remains a place where anything can happen, and does: shamanism in Buryatia, sectarianism in the Caucasus, and capitalism, or at least a warped Russian version of it, more or less everywhere. A great slab of unprocessed pain sits toxically at and on the country's heart.
      So the satire on St Petersburg and the Caucasus in Shteyngart's Absurdistan, or the apparitions and magic realism of Gina Ochsner's under-noticed The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight (in which feral children discover a crack in the earth's surface), are only slight inflections of the lurid, unstable modern Russian reality – just as Bulgakov's surrealism in The Master and Margarita or The Fatal Eggs was only a mild caricature of the caprices and excesses of totalitarianism. As a visitor to such a country, you often ask: what am I doing here? As a writer you wonder: maybe I should do something with this.
      There are multiple ways to think about Russia's extremes. The obvious one is physical. Much of the vast country is lethally cold for half the year or more. Virtually any outdoor activity – starting a car; walking down the obstacle-course, snowbound streets – can be its own microdrama. This harsh environment helps to explain why Dostoevsky and others always seem to be stretching up their hands to heaven. The fundamental questions – Why are we here? Is anyone in charge? – somehow seem sharper at -20C, or on a three-day train ride.
      In my own novel Snowdrops, I've tried to convey the drama of the Russian seasons, from the long oblivion of the winter, through the redemption of the spring to the opportunistic explosion of the summer – and the way, along with their practical burdens, the winter and the snow shape psychology and the rhythm of Russian life. A "snowdrop" is a corpse that lies buried or hidden in the snow until the thaw; also, in my book, a metaphor for dark, close and ultimately inescapable truths that the narrator, a drifting thirtysomething English lawyer, would prefer not to think about.
      Another way in which Russia is polarised is in morality: in the range of individual responses to its acute moral challenges. Good times are somehow better in Russia – something about the fact that they might abruptly end – and so are good people. The country gestates bona fide saints, whose fictional avatars crop up in 19th-century Russian literature. Modern western writers are typically more interested in characters who would like to be, but aren't quite, good; people willing to make accommodations, up to a point; keen to do no harm but also to suffer none, like the anguished Soviet detective in Tom Rob Smith's Child 44, or Grushin's Sukhanov, a sell-out art historian with a blighted conscience and a tragic past.
      The saints and the compromisers face those choices because of Russia's distinction at the other end of the ethical spectrum. "The nightmare country", Martin Amis calls it in House of Meetings, his fierce tale of the gulag and its afterlife: "And always the compound nightmare. Always the most talented nightmare." The lavish cruelty of mad tsars and Stalin is past; their successors are merely brutal and dismally corrupt. Conspiracy theories thrive in Russia, and in stories set there, because, well, there are conspiracies. For Amis and others, the mystery of Russia is also, in the end, the problem of evil.
      Yet just as travel writing chronicles the traveller's preconceptions as well as his journey, so for some novelists, Russia is not, or not only, a sort of moral zoo, which writer and reader can visit with a safe sense of superiority. It is also a place to test their moral pride and presumptions.
      Russia has for centuries been a distorting, fairground mirror for the west. It is both like and unlike the tamer nations. Throughout the cold war, it was alien, unknowable, the other, enemy world, and an easy setting for thrillers. Something of that menace persists, partly in the guise of the Russian mob, one of the elements in John le Carré's latest book Our Kind of Traitor. At the same time Russia is European, notionally Christian and industrialised. It has a familiar high culture and recognisable architecture. Go to Moscow for a day or two, and you might consider it a normal northern European city, with extra neon and worse roads. You have to stay a little longer to uncover the wildness. As the Marquis de Custine put it after visiting in 1839, it is "only too easy to be deceived by the appearances of civilisation".
      One question posed by some novels set in Russia is whether this place that sometimes looks the same actually is the same: whether everything that happens there could happen here too, could happen to us, if we shed our inhibitions and our own "appearances of civilisation". Shteyngart's hero in Absurdistan is a Russian educated in America, whose comic odyssey is in part an inquiry into how different those two parts of his identity really are. Le Carré's British establishment, meanwhile, is suavely susceptible to Russian cash.
      Would we have informed in the 1930s if our lives depended on it? Would we cling to our integrity today, if almost everyone about us was selling theirs? That last is a question my own novel tries to pose. Nick, my narrator, is sucked into Moscow during its greedy, oil-fuelled boom. He only finds out what sort of man he can be, perhaps has always been, when he lives in Russia.


      Russian TV visits neo-Nazi training camp, highlights ultranationalist threat
      Rossiya 1, BBC Monitoring, December 19, 2010

      The 19 December edition of the weekly "Special Correspondent" programme on official state channel Rossiya 1 featured a film about ethnic tension in Russia, which included footage of a secret training base run by a neo-Nazi paramilitary group and a brief interview with its leader.
      Trained to kill
      Correspondent Aleksandr Rogatkin said that members of the group, some of whom appeared in the film, trained in a forest and at a disused building site near Voronezh. "All the rules of military art were followed when building the training base. It has dugouts and trenches," Rogatkin said over footage of men with shaved heads, some of them masked, running about with weapons, occasionally firing them, and negotiating obstacles.
      Rogatkin did not say when the footage was filmed, but the men were wearing summer clothes.
      One of them, armed with a knife, demonstrated stabbing techniques on a colleague. The latter suffered a minor wound during the demonstration. "They are being trained here for one thing - killing," Rogatkin observed.
      He noted that the men at the base wore high black boots with white shoelaces, the latter, according to him, meaning that their owner had killed someone before.
      Rogatkin went on to interview the group leader, Artem Krasnolutskiy, aka Uragan (Hurricane), whom he described as "leader of Voronezh's neo-Nazis" and "a student at a prestigious local university".
      Asked if his white shoelaces meant that he had killed someone in the past, Krasnolutskiy said: "I won't be saying this on camera, but people who know will understand. Force is an essential attribute of the National Socialists. That is why if a National Socialist has not killed, he is not a National Socialist."
      Discussing the group's ideology, Krasnolutskiy said that it was driven by "hatred". "Hatred is one of our main weapons. Hatred is in all of us. Hatred is present in our thoughts and in everything we do," he said.
      He denied that the group received any external funding. "There is a myth that we are financed by wealthy businessmen or even foreigners. That is not the case, although I would be happy if someone financed us. So, we do this ourselves," Krasnolutskiy said.
      Ending this section of the film, Rogatkin said that Krasnolutskiy had since been arrested after "a fight in which knives were used".
      Film explores causes of ethnic tension
      Most of the 22-minute film was devoted to an examination of recent ethnic riots in Russia and their causes. Various speakers discussed the danger nationalism posed to the country's unity.
      One of them, prominent Russian doctor Leonid Roshal, warned that "the enmity between ethnic groups could develop into an internecine war", which would eventually "destroy our Russia".
      The editor of the nationalist weekly Zavtra, Aleksandr Prokhanov, spoke of "enormous resentment" permeating Russian society, in which ethnic Russians were "a discriminated majority", having been "deprived of jobs as well as their messianic role".
      While generally ringing the alarm bells, the film briefly struck what came across as a reassuring note when it appeared to liken ethnic clashes in Russia to recent violence on the streets of London and Athens.
      Studio debate focuses on fears about Russia's future
      The film was followed by a 42-minute studio discussion involving Nikita Mikhalkov, a film director and fervent admirer of Vladimir Putin; Mikhail Barshchevskiy, the Russian government's representative in the Constitutional Court; and Aleksandr Shprygin, the president of the Russian association of football supporters.
      Mikhalkov and Barshchevskiy agreed that nationalism carried a serious threat to Russia's very existence and called for better school education as the recipe for saving the country.
      Mikhalkov lamented the absence of values that were common to the various ethnic groups living in Russia and predicted that, unless the situation was remedied quickly, "it would be impossible mechanically to keep the country together".
      Barshchevskiy also spoke about the prospect of the country disintegrating. "The biggest real threat to Russia - one that has real potential to destroy Russia, just as the Soviet Union was destroyed - is nationalism and xenophobia. Unless we deal with the consequences of the Leninist-Stalinist nationalities policy, Russia may carry on for another 10, 20 or 30 years, but will then break up, just as the Soviet Union did. The decay is spreading from within," Barshchevskiy said.
      The studio discussion was at one point interrupted with a recording of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, discussing the issue. He compared various parts of the country and various sections of Russian society to "communicating vessels", saying that "ulcers and the scourge of radicalism in one place lead to their mirror reflections in all the others". "There can be no peace and quiet in such a system," Kirill concluded.
      The moderator of the discussion, Mariya Sittel, remarked that the ethnic riots in Moscow on 11 December had triggered "a process that could become mortally dangerous for Russia".

      Russians to face tougher restrictions on moving
      AP, December 21, 2010

      MOSCOW -- Russians may face new restrictions when trying to move from the provinces to Moscow, St. Petersburg or other large cities, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signaled Tuesday.
      Putin portrayed the move as a way to cut down on ethnic violence in the streets, but Kremlin critics say those tensions are being fanned deliberately as a pretext to introduce repressive legislation ahead of Russia's 2012 presidential election.
      Ethnic tensions have been simmering since the death of a Slavic soccer fan during a fight with southern people from the Caucasus earlier this month. Racist hooligans reacted by conducting violent protests chanting "Russia for Russians!" and other slogans near the Kremlin, and police have arrested thousands of people since then to keep a lid on further unrest.
      Putin appealed to soccer fans in Moscow on Tuesday to distance themselves from any ultranationalists and announced the possible measures, ostensibly to combat ethnic violence.
      "If we don't respect each other, what are we to do? We will have to perfect, to put it mildly, registration rules in territories of the country, especially in big centers - in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other main cities," Putin said.
      Russians are already required to log in some movements around the country with authorities, and Putin's call would signal a further clampdown.
      The restrictions Putin mentioned are aimed at people from the dilapidated, mainly Muslim southern Caucasus region looking to relocate to big cities, because there is little migration in the opposite direction.
      It is the second potentially restrictive measure floated by authorities since the tensions flared up.
      President Dmitry Medvedev met with law enforcement officials a day after hundreds of people were arrested last week trying to hold ultranationalist rallies, and announced that participation in unauthorized protests should be punishable by incarceration rather than a fine.
      That would make it harder for any type of anti-government protests ahead of the 2012 presidential elections. Putin and Medvedev have both said either of them could run in that vote, but have vowed not to compete against each other.
      Putin warned of the dangers of xenophobia, an evil to which a multinational Russia was "losing its immunity."
      "A country that shuts itself off is degenerating," he said. "An open country can't be nationalistic."
      Putin called for greater respect in all quarters for Russians from out of town, saying in typically salty language: "I wouldn't give 10 kopeks for the health of anyone who would come to the republics of the North Caucasus and disrespect the Quran."
      "But people from the North Caucasus, when they come to other regions, should respect local culture, traditions and laws," he added.

      Ethnic policy in Russia changing for worse - Public Chamber
      NTV, BBC Monitoring, December 22, 2010

      The situation in the ethnic policy in Russia in 2010 has taken a turn for the worse, the Russian Public Chamber said today, summing up the results of the past year, as reported by Russian NTV on 22 December.
      Nikolay Svanidze, the chairman of the Public Chamber commission for inter-ethnic relations (and freedom of conscience), has described the situation as tough, the report said. In his opinion, it is the social situation, first and foremost, that is pushing young people towards aggression.
      "They do not see paragovernmental slogans or appeals, but they see terrible and all-permeating corruption, to resist which they have neither opportunities nor strength. They see officials who have gone absolutely mad with easy money, who go past them, go past hours-long traffic jams in their expensive cars, ignoring them. They see lawlessness and selective justice in courts, they see lack of social lifts, lack of prospects, as well as drunkenness, brawls and swearing as the only way to express one's thoughts from the cradle. They know and acknowledge the only identification, and it is the ethnic one," he said, as carried by NTV.
      "The situation in the ethnic policy at present is very tough and far from simple. I must say that over this year it has changed for the worse. And the end of the year has shown it," Svanidze said, as quoted by Russian news agency RIA Novosti on the same day.
      Young people's life does not come up to their expectations, he said. "First, it is the social situation in general when young people, boys, largely from the city's dormitories, are coming face to face with life that can by no means meet their demands," he said, as reported by the agency. The second reason for this is the replacement of patriotic propaganda with provocations, used by many politicians, while the number three reason is the unresolved "Caucasus issue", he said, as quoted by RIA Novosti.
      For his part, Russian ombudsman Vladimir Lukin stressed the intolerance of Russian society, Russian news agency Interfax reported on the same day.
      "The first thing that strikes the eye, or rather, the ear, if we can say so, is the fact that we are living in a situation of strong intolerance in society. It is growing across the whole spectre - at home, in the transport, in the office and on TV screen - a presumption of a scandal or a row exists everywhere," Lukin said.
      The feeling that a scandal is unavoidable is very dangerous, in his opinion, "boxing is nearly callisthenics these days", he added, as quoted by the agency.
      "We need rules of nobleness that one should follow, and not rules of violating other rules," he said, as quoted by Interfax.
      In this connection he acknowledged the benefit of religion in children's upbringing, but stressed that traditions should not divide Russian citizens.
      "I believe that the religious factor in people's moral upbringing is very important and useful. But when I saw children of 12, 13, 14 years clash with each other, shouting out nationalist slogans, I thought to myself: where is this hiding? (It is hiding) in the family, at school where various religions are taught, while children understand it in their own way, with their small fists," he said.
      "One should hammer in the slogan: Russia is for Russian citizens. All customs - the customs of mountains, lakes and valleys - all this is optional," Interfax quoted Lukin as saying.

      Russian Xenophobia Both Less and More than Meets the Eye, Jewish Leader Says
      By: Paul Goble
      Window on Eurasia, December 24, 2010

      Staunton, December 24 – Xenophobia in Russia today, a leader of the Federation of Jewish Organizations of Russia (FEOR) says, does not rest on a solid ideological foundation but rather reflects the dissatisfaction of Russians with their lives, a pattern that makes it both less and more dangerous than might otherwise be the case.
      In an interview given to a French journal on the occasion of Hanukah that, having been translated into Russian, is now receiving widespread attention, Borukh Gorin, the head of FEOR's public liaison department, discusses this and a variety of other issues affecting not only the Jewish community but others as well (www.aen.ru/?page=brief&article_id=59284).
      Asked by his interlocutor whether "a dialogue of Jewish culture and Russian culture is possible or not," Gorin says that the two are forced by circumstances to communicate with each other, something that can make a positive contribution or that can have the most negative consequences.
      The problems with such exchanges begin "when those who talk about `dialogue' with representatives of other religions" do so on the assumption that "the other has a certain fraction of the truth." That is called "tolerance" and is assumed to be "a necessary element of a healthy society."
      But Gorin says that he disagrees. "A healthy society," he argues, "is a society where people with the most varied opinions meet and have the right to remain in categorical disagreement with each other." Those who want a society "where Jews accept as `real' Christian or Muslim dogmas … [are dreaming] of a utopia."
      As far as the Russian government is concerned, Gorin continues, its policy is "populist." That is, "the powers that be do what the people expect from them." Unfortunately, it often happens that "the people want evil things. The majority always wants to steal from the weak and punish the alien."
      One should recognize, the FEOR leader says, that "Russian politicians today are much less inclined to engage in xenophobic rhetoric than they were." Now, he points out, "xenophobic rhetoric has given way to the rhetoric of [Russia as] as great power," again something that is a mixed blessing.
      While official encouragement for xenophobia has declined, the Russian "powers that be are convincing the population that its interests are less important than the interests of the state. [And] Russia is ever more often standing on imperialist positions," a view that is "widely supported" among the people and "what is especially sad, among the ruling elites."
      "I consider that this is very bad for the world in general," Gorin concludes, "and for Russia in particular."
      According to Gorin, the reason that imperial rhetoric is so popular is that "people want a strong and effective state, and here they deceive themselves. For the majority of Russians, `national humiliation' is when Russia is not involved in taking decisions of anywhere in the world."
      But the FEOR leader says that in his view, "'national humiliation' is when old people search in trash heaps in order to earn three kopecks or when there is no money for children who are ill with leukemia." "I would be proud of my country even if it did not make decisions about Burkina-Faso," if in exchange "the elderly didn't have to stand in line for an hour and a half to see a doctor."
      "Must people be proud, for example, of `the great construction projects' of the past and future which cost millions of human lives?" Gorin asks rhetorically, and he notes that Russian "society says `yes,' but "I say `no.'" And he adds for good measure, "no modernization is worth the life of a child."
      "People who are in despair," as many Russians now are, "search for enemies. And they easily find them in the face of outsiders, the poorly dressed or those who cannot express themselves well in Russian." Thus, Gorin insists, "Russian xenophobia expresses a general dissatisfaction with life," rather than any specific ideological program.
      Consequently, what one is seeing in Russia today is not "the struggle against any particular people but a struggle against a dog's life. Indicative of that," Gorin says, "is that in the majority of Russian neo-Nazi groupings there are many people of various nationalities, not just ethnic Russians."
      One group that is unlikely to be the focus of attack now, Gorin suggests, consists of the Jews. Despite the history of official anti-Semitism, he argues, "today the slogan `Beat the Kikes and Save Russia!" isn't on the agenda. The majority of Russian people in practive have few acquaintances who are Jews."
      Consequently, Russian xenophobic attitudes will focus on "enemies" among immigrants, terrorists, and foreigners rather than the less than one percent of the Russian population because "in reality, it would be difficult to explain to people for what reason the Jews of the entire world want bad things for Russians."
      Asked about the rapprochement between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state, Gorin says that "today it is obvious that the Orthodox Church is broadening its influence in government structures," a trend that he suggests "represents a danger and in the first instance, for the Orthodox Church itself."
      "For any religious organization," he continues, "integration with the state is a mortal danger." And he points to the situation in Israel, where as a result of the state functions rabbis play, "anti-religious attitudes in Israeli society are felt more strongly than in any other Jewish community in the world."
      "The Russian Orthodox Church is not distancing itself from the state because it wants to strengthen its positions. The state in turn is not distancing itself from the Church since it is trying to use as much as possible the ideological potential of the Church." Under the circumstances, that may not be an entirely bad thing, Gorin says.
      "What kind of ideology could we have in Russia today?" he asks. "Faith in Gazprom? In the empire? In xenophobia?" The Russian powers that be have a lot of choices, and settling on "'renewed Orthodoxy' would not be "the worst" of all of them, despite the obvious risks it would entail for all concerned.


      Russian leaders argue about Soviet model
      AP, December 27, 2010

      MOSCOW -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pointed at the Soviet model as an example of how various ethnic groups can have friendly ties, drawing a quick retort Monday from the president in a rare sign of friction between the two leaders.
      Putin's protege and successor as president, Dmitry Medvedev, countered him by saying that the Soviet experience wasn't exactly a positive one and it can't be repeated, adding that Russia may learn from the U.S. experience.
      The public exchange will likely fuel speculation about tensions between the two leaders as the nation approaches the 2012 presidential election.
      Putin and Medvedev have denied any rift between them and said they would decide who would run for president in 2012 so that they don't compete against each other. Most observers expect that Putin, who remains Russia's most powerful figure, will reclaim the presidency.
      Speaking at a Kremlin meeting focused on ways to assuage ethnic tensions that spilled into the open during riots outside the Kremlin on Dec. 11, Putin said that Russia has failed to learn from the Soviet experience and called for cultivating Russian patriotism.
      Speaking immediately after him, Medvedev said that the Soviet experience can't be reproduced.
      "Can we repeat what was done during the Soviet period? he said. "No, it's impossible. The Soviet Union was a state based on ideology, and, let's say it openly, quite a rigid one. Russia is different."
      "We need to work out new approaches," Medvedev said.
      During the Dec. 11 riots, soccer fans and racists chanting "Russia for Russians!" clashed with police and beat members of ethnic minority groups from the Caucasus region.
      The violence in Moscow raised doubts about the government's ability to control a rising tide of xenophobia, which threatens the country's existence.
      While ethnic Russians make up four-fifths of Russia's population of 142 million, the country is also home to about 180 ethnic groups. The Caucasus region, with its mountainous terrain and isolated valleys, hosts at least 100 ethnicities including Chechens, who have waged two separatist wars against Moscow after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
      Putin suggested Monday that the authorities might restore harsh Soviet era-restrictions on movement into big cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg. Such a move would target dark-complexioned people from the Caucasus, who flee their impoverished regions for big cities.
      "We went for liberal rules of registration too early," Putin said.
      Medvedev, however, warned against trying to isolate ethnic groups. "We can't block people from moving around the country, although we need to control that," he said. "We are a single country, and we must learn to live together."
      Medvedev warned that ethnic tensions could break Russia up if the government fails to stem violent nationalism and act more harshly to disperse riots.
      "Interethnic conflicts are deadly dangerous for Russia," Medvedev said. "We mustn't allow some dimwits to destroy our common home."
      Putin also suggested limiting jury trials, introduced all over Russia in recent years. He said that trials by jury for suspects in murders and other grave crimes should only be held on an inter-region level instead of a local level to prevent acquittals based on clan loyalties.
      During his eight-year presidency, Putin steadily rolled back Russia's post-Soviet freedoms, abolishing direct elections of provincial governors and pushing other electoral changes that strengthened the Kremlin's control over Russia's political life. The former KGB officer once described the Soviet collapse as the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century."
      Medvedev has been markedly more critical about the Soviet past, trying to cater to a more liberal and educated part of the electorate and improve Russia's image in the West. But differences between the two leaders are mostly limited to style and Medvedev so far has acted as a loyal placeholder for Putin.
      Nikolai Petrov of the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow office suggested that Monday's exc<br/><br/>(Message over 64 KB, truncated)
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