Sunday, February 19, 2017

Despite Opposition, Some Brave Russians Continue to Demonstrate for Crimean Tatar Rights



Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 19 – Yesterday as they have done every 18th of the month since November, small groups of activists have come into the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg to demonstrate on behalf of the rights of the Crimean Tatars, actions that their participants say are the most difficult because of xenophobia, ignorance and viciousness of many around them.

            (The reason the demonstrations began on November 18th and continue on the 18th of each month since, participants say, is that it was on November 18, 1944, that the Soviet government deported the Crimean Tatars from their homeland to the wilds of Central Asia, an action in which so many of that nation lost their lives.)

            In a comment for the New Chronicle of Current Events portal, Yevgeniya Litvinova, one of the leaders of these actions, says that the reaction of most people to these demonstration is “extremely aggressive,” with participants being attacked and their signs ripped away (ixtc.org/2017/02/evgeniya-litvinova-iz-ulichnyh-aktsiy-samye-tyazhelye-v-podderzhku-krymskih-tatar/).

                “Xenophobia,” she continues, “is a feeling which unites the minority of Russians. It is one of the bindings [Vladimir Putin loves to invoke]. And over the course of an hour on Nevsky Prospekt [in the northern capital, one can hear all the evil words about Tatars, about oneself and about other ‘traitors to the motherland.’”

            Butthere are other reactions as well, and these give Russian supporters of the Crimean Tatars some hope. One young couple shouted “Hurrah! Young people are behind you!” and an elderly lady said simply “’thank you.’” Perhaps especially moving was the man who once it was explained that it is the Russian occupiers repressing the Tatars said it was right to speak out.

            “Such words are the exception, and the rule [consists of] threats” and questions about how much the demonstrators are being paid and by whom, Litivinova says. Many passers-by insisted that “Crimea always was Russian” and that the Crimean Tatars as part of the Golden Horde “attacked Russia” and so had to be defeated and controlled.

            Instead of being intimidated by such comments or by the actions of provocateurs, she continues, those things simply underscore why such demonstrations by Russians in Russia are needed and why they must continue.

Anti-Luskashenka Protests Spread Across Belarus, as Moscow Mulls Response



Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 19 – One of the most curious characteristics of revolutions is that they often begin when something happens that ordinarily would be quickly dealt with and contained but then capture the mood of the population of the moment and quickly grow into a fundamental challenge to the existing system.

            That happened in Petrograd in February 1917 and in Kyiv in 2013, among others, and it now appears to be happening in Belarus where anger about a foolish effort by Minsk to tax those without jobs has prompted not just the largest protest in Minsk since 2010 but also demonstrations in other cities of that country over the last 24 hours.

            It is of course possible that the Lukashenka regime will manage to suppress this popular rising or that Vladimir Putin will exploit it to achieve regime change or even annexation there, but it is absolutely clear that the Belarusian people have had enough of their incumbent dictator and are prepared to go farther and faster than even opposition figures had thought possible.

            The demonstrations in the Belarusian capital on Friday were the largest and the most vocally anti-Lukashenka of any there since at least 2010 (belaruspartisan.org/politic/371381/ and naviny.by/article/20170217/1487356921-marsh-vozmushchennyh-belorusov-v-strane-ozhivaet-politicheskiy-protest).

            But what is perhaps even more important is that similar protests are taking place in the Belarusian cities of Mohylev, Homel, and Hrodno as well, attracting far more people than even their organizers expected and with participants expressing far more radical and anti-regime views than many had ever done before (belaruspartisan.org/politic/371452/).

            The reason this spread of protest activity is so important is that Lukashenka, like his fellow dictator Vladimir Putin, has always relied on the support of people outside the often restive capitals. If the Minsk leader has now lost that – and the protests outside of Minsk suggest that he has – then he is in a far weaker position than many have assumed.

            What happens next will depend not only on how Lukashenka responds but also and perhaps even more importantly on how Moscow decides to react.  In today’s Komsomolskaya Pravda, commentator Aleksandr Grishin provides some clues as to how Russian officials now view what is happening in Belarus (kp.ru/daily/26645.7/3664336/).

            In a lengthy article, Grishin argues that the situation in Belarus now is proceeding in exactly the same way it did in Ukraine in the lead up to the Maidan; and he places the blame on Moscow’s favorite usual subjects: the West for stirring the pot, the intelligentsia for politicizing that which shouldn’t be politicized, and Lukashenka himself for his “playing” with the West.

            In short, the Moscow commentator says, Russia and the world are seeing in Belarus what they have seen so many times before, “in Yugoslavia, Serbia, Georgia, Armenia, Georgia [again], Ukraine and in Egypt,” Western efforts to promote a color revolution and the need for healthy forces to do something about that.

            Moreover, and this may be especially indicative of how Moscow is evaluating the events of the last 48 hours, Grishin says that after trying to work with Lukashenka, Western governments and NGOs in recent weeks have been urging their Belarusian counterparts in Minsk to expand their contacts with people in other cities and regions of that country.

            The Komsomolskaya Pravda commentator writes: “It was even said at one time that those NGOs who shift from work with the capital intelligentsia to efforts at influencing the young in the Belarusian provinces will have the best chances to receive Western grants.”

                And Grishin continues by observing that “the fruits of such work already are in evidence. On social networks, ever more young people from Belarus” are becoming anti-Russian, pro-Kyiv and pro-European,” a trend that those behind all these demonstrations in Belarus are planning to extend with more marches in the future.

            The message from Moscow would seem to be clear because it is the same one Vladimir Putin delivered to Kyiv three years ago: Lukashenka must restore order quickly before the situation truly gets out of hand or Moscow one way or another with him or without him will take steps to do so.  

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Notorious Serbsky Institute Releases Latest ‘Madness Map’ of Russian Regions



Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 18 -- Moscow’s Serbsky Institute, notorious in Soviet times for its imposition of the diagnosis of “creeping schizophrenia” on dissidents, has just released its rankings of the federal subjects of the Russian Federation in terms of the number of people per 100,000 seeking psychiatric help.

            The federal subjects ranked “worst” on this measure are the Altay, Chukotka, the Yamalo-Nanets Autonomous District, Perm Kray and Krasnoyarsk Kray. Those ranked “best” are Moscow, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Ingushetia and Chechnya. St. Petersburg is mid-range (life.ru/t/социология/974715/samyie_sumasshiedshiie_rieghiony_rossii).

            Boris Kazakovtsev, a specialist at the Serbsky, points out that “in the southern part of the country and the Caucasus, psychic illnesses are three to four times lower than in the middle portion of Russia and in the north.”  He says that this does not reflect greater unwillingness in the former to turn to psychiatrists but rather better health in general.

            He adds that the overall indicators of the numbers of madness “reached their peak values ten years ago,” when somewhat more than 4.25 million” residents of the Russian Federation were included in the list of those with psychological illnesses. By the end of 2015, that number had fallen to 4.04 million.

            According to Kazakovtsev, the four million represents the number who have turned to psychiatrists for help. “In fact, certain data suggest, including international ones, we have about 14 million psychologically ill people, including both psychic and drug addictions.” People turn to psychiatry only when things are really bad.

            Health experts in Moscow say that a very large share of the psychologically ill in Russia have problems with alcohol and drugs, which are both a cause and a consequence of mental problems.  That is, Russians use these things because of psychological difficulties but as they do so, these substances in and of themselves add to their mental problems.

            The Life portal appends to its report the complete ranking of all regions and republics of the Russian Federation.