Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Punitive Psychiatry Returns to Russia with a Vengeance in Case of Sakha Shaman


Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 31 – Fifty years ago, the international community rose almost as one to denounce the Soviet practice of confining dissidents in psychiatric hospitals and treating them with mind-altering drugs, a practice Soviet doctors and officials justified by saying they were curing what they called “sluggish schizophrenia.”

            Now, Russian officials are following the same path, but there are two major differences: There hasn’t been an upsurge of international condemnation, and the authorities now are doing this without any attempt at denial. No one is talking about “sluggish schizophrenia” as Soviet doctors did. Officials are simply saying their victims are a threat to the system.

            Aleksey Pryanishnikov, coordinator of the Legal Defense Revelations group, says that in Yakutsk, a medical commission of the psycho-neurological center has concluded that Shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev, who sought to walk to Moscow to “exorcise Putin” is dangerous for himself and those around him (mbk.news/news/v-yakutii-vrachebnaya/).

            On June 1, the activist says, “almost three weeks after Gabyshev was confined in the center” and thus almost 20 days longer than the law allows, the doctors say that they will seek to have a court confirm their diagnosis and allow them to keep the shaman under lock and key and forcibly treat him, likely with mind-altering drugs.

            What the Russian officials and doctors are doing to the shaman is illegal and inhumane. What the international community is not doing by not protesting and coming to his defense is shameful, even complicitous, because it allows these Russian officials and doctors to get away with their criminal actions. 

Moscow’s Moves Against Nenets and Komi Regions Directed Against Middle Volga as Well, Idel-Ural Movement Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 31 – Moscow’s moves toward amalgamating the Nenets Autonomous District and even the Komi Republic with the predominantly ethnic Russian Arkhangelsk Oblast are intended not only to guarantee the center’s control of the oil and gas resources of those regions but also to block the republics of the Middle Volga from having an outlet to the sea.

            In this sense, the Idel-Ural movement says, this Russian government action in the north corresponds to its defense of the predominantly Russian Orenburg Oblast which serves as a block to prevent the peoples of the Middle Volga from having an external border in that case with Kazakhstan (idel-ural.org/archives/kоми-и-имперская-политика-в-арктике).


            Two things flow from this, the Idel-Ural movement says. On the one hand, it is a reminder that Moscow’s policies toward nationalities in one place almost always have implications for other places. And on the other, it means that the peoples of the Middle Volga must now come to the defense of the Nenets and Komi nations against Moscow.

            The basin of the Pechora river, the Northern Urals and the shores of the Barents Sea have always attracted the Russian state because of their natural wealth, furs initially but now oil, gas and coal.  And to ensure this access, Idel-Ural movement says, they have subjected the peoples whose homeland this area is to “russification, alcoholization, and collectivization.” 

            “In a moment of its weakness,” the movement continues, Moscow was forced to recognize the right of the peoples there to self-determination. In August 1921, the Soviets recognized the formation of the Autonomous Komi (Zyryan) Oblast, which initially included a lengthy part of the Arctic littoral.

            That meant that the Komi and Nenets were within a single national unit, but that was not a bad thing because it meant that these dispersed communities lived within the same borders and at least in principle had the opportunity to dominate local decision making. But Moscow wasn’t through.

            In 1929, it deprived the Komi of access to the sea by forming the Nenets District and reduced its importance by including it within an enormous Northern Kray.  Then in 1936, Moscow split up the Northern Kray, and the Komi area was transformed into an autonomous SSR. At the same time, the Nenets region remained within the Arkhangelsk Oblast until 1977 when it6 was elevated to the status of an autonomy but remained subordinate to Arkhangelsk.

            Despite this failed Soviet attempt at combination, Putin’s regime has decided to recreate the Northern Kray, albeit under a new name but with the native peoples, the Nentsy and the Komi, subordinate to an ethnic Russian majority. But it is likely the Kremlin is responding to more recent developments and its current fears.

            On August 29, 1990, the Komi ASSR was among the first within the RSFSR to proclaim state sovereignty; and on May 21, 1991, it elevated its status to that of a union republic. But that came too late to be recognized in the center. According to the 1993 constitution, the Komi and the Nenets became subjects of the federation, as a republic and autonomous district respectively.

            Putin fears something similar but he fears something else more: a band of republics from the Arctic to Central Asia cutting off European Russia from Siberia and the Far East. That is why Moscow is now so obsessive about maintaining the Orenburg corridor between Bashkortostan and Kazakhstan, the Kudymar corridor between Udmurtia and Komi, and the subordination of Nenets lands to Arkhangelsk.

            If Kremlin’s current plans are realized, Moscow will have put in place a system that will allow it to oppress the non-Russians even more than now. And for that reason, if for no other, the peoples of the Middle Volga as well as all others must come to the support of the Nentsy and the Komi now, the Idel-Ural movement says.

Cossacks Look Back to 1932 Émigré Constitutional Project for Free Cossackia


Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 31 – The late Russian émigré writer Roman Gul entitled his study of Russian culture, Odvukon, a Cossack term for someone who rides two horses at the same time, to call attention to the ways in which the Russian emigration and Russian culture at home interacted to the extent possible.

            Now, this Cossack term is being recovered by Cossacks in the Russian Federation who, given the new possibilities for studying the émigré past, are focusing on the ways in which the Cossack emigration advanced ideas about Cossack autonomy, federalism, democracy, and even independence.

And just as many in the last decades of the Soviet Union relied on what was called the exposure of “bourgeois falsifications” to learn about things the CPSU did not want them to know, so too now groups the Putin regime is seeking to marginalize are turning to articles critical of their émigré counterparts in the past to get ideas from the past for the future.

            A recent paper by a student at the Moscow State Law University that criticizes Cossack émigré thinking in the 1920s and later about the possibility of creating an independent Cossack state is now being read by Cossacks inside the current borders of the Russian Federation almost as a guidebook on how to pursue such a project.

            The idea that the Cossacks could have a country of their own has long been dismissed in Russia and the West as impossible. Indeed, the reference to Cossackia in the 1959 US Congress Captive Nation Week resolution is one of the bases many have employed to dismiss that entire document. (For background on this, see jamestown.org/program/cossackia-no-longer-an-impossible-dream/.)

            But the way in which Cossack emigres wrestled with this question almost a century ago suggests how those pursuing such a dream now might go forward as their predecessors dealt with such questions as the diversity of the Cossack hosts, their geographic dispersion, and the lack of Cossack homogeneity even in areas they define as their own.

            In an essay entitled “The Union Constitution of Cossackia in the Plans of the Cossack Emigration, Fyodor Popov describes the thinking of Cossacks in the West about a future state and the various sources from which their ideas came.  Cossacks in Russia are now discussing his report (facebook.com/groups/471477107025889/permalink/679611242879140/).

            Those who fled Soviet Russia and formed the Cossack diaspora were divided between those who favored independence, those who favored a single autonomy, and those who favored separate and multiple autonomies. (“Cossackia or Separate Cossack States?” (in Russian), Volnoye Kazachestvo, 83 (June 25, 1931): 4-9.).

            In 1927, Popov writes, members of the Cossack intelligentsia in Prague formed the Union of the Free Cossacks. It was dominated by Don Cossacks but included representatives of other hosts as well and was strongly influenced by Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Siberian emigrations there as well as by historian and legal theorist Sergey Svatikov.

            Collectively, the group drafted a Constitution of Cossackia, which was published in a series of issues of Volnoye Kazachestvo in 1932.  It is highly detailed, calls for seven Cossack territories – the Don, Kuban, Terek, Ural, Asrakhan, Orenburg and Kalmyk – each of which was to govern itself and together form a central Cossack government.

            That government, according to the document, was to consist of both a parliament and an ataman president, elected for a five-year term and acting according to powers delegated from the seven Cossack territories to interact with foreign countries including the Soviet Union or some future Russia.

            According to Popov, even a brief survey of this project shows that this draft was “a carefully developed document, in which its creators, led by the constitutional-legal experience of those times, attempted to take into consideration all sides of the life of a hypothetical Cossack state.”

            The Russian scholar says that this document informed the thinking of Cossacks during World War II and the Cold War as well. What he doesn’t say but what his article in fact is helping to lay the groundwork for is that this long ago draft constitution may very well become the basis for independent-minded Cossacks today.