Saturday, September 19, 2020

Russian Investigations Committee Establishes Special Department to Combat Falsification and Historical Revisionism

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 18 – The Investigations Committee of the Russian Federation has set up a special department to combat falsification of history and any rehabilitation of Nazism. Aleksandr Bastrykin, the committee’s head, says that the size of the task requires this concentration of effort.

            Many connect this move with the amendments to the Constitution which call for fighting against any “falsification of ‘historical truth’” especially with regard to World War II and the Soviet fight against fascism, noting that there still isn’t a paragraph in the criminal or administrative codes about this (polit.ru/article/2020/09/17/sledcom/).

            Since 2014, there has been a provision in the criminal code about revisionism of the historical record on Nazism. Since that time, the Agora Human Rights Organization, the authorities have brought a small number of cases to court, two in 2014 five in 2016, and eight in 2017.  The creation of the new department suggests there will now be more.

            Over the last two years, the Investigations Committee has brought forward four cases against those who are charged with committing crimes for the Nazis on occupied territories of the USSR. Even though few of those people remain alive, there is every indication that cases will be lodged even against the dead to make the point.

            Svetlana Petrenko, a representative of the Committee, says that if those the committee determines committed crimes during World War II are dead, “we simply must specify the crime which was committed by this or that individual and name them.” There are “very many” such cases, she adds (sledcom.ru/press/smi/item/1462061).

            What that means is that the remit of the new division is much larger than it might appear and that Moscow now has an institutional arrangement that will allow it when the Kremlin finds it useful to charge this or that person in Russia or abroad with war crimes even if the individual so charged is already dead.

            It is likely that many will draw parallels with the Office of Special Investigations in the US Department of Justice, but that group has focused only on those still alive rather than on all those who may have committed war crimes. To open the judicial system to the issue of crimes by those already dead is a vast expansion of the normal role of government investigators.

Lukashenka’s Repressions May Push Belarusian Demonstrators into Taking More Serious Defensive Measures, Shelest Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 19 – The anti-Lukashenka protests remain peaceful, but the increasingly harsh response of the regime is radicalizing the views of many taking part in the demonstrations and could lead to a violent response if the dictator steps up his repressive actions further, according to sociologist Oksana Shelest.

            In her weekly “Voice of the Streets” report compiled on the basis of her conversations with Belarusians who are demonstrating against Lukashenka, she says people are reacting increasingly negatively to the regime’s repressive actions and have taken to pulling the masks off the perpetrators (thinktanks.by/publication/2020/09/18/golos-ulitsy-aktsii-krome-protestnogo-haraktera-imeyut-vse-bolshiy-komponent-solidarnosti.html).

            While most demonstrators place a high value on remaining peaceful and non-violent, Shelest continues, an increasing number say that the escalation of regime attacks on them is attracting more support for the idea that they should form “popular militias” and “self-defense detachments.” 

            That comes in response to the regime’s increasing pressure on protesters. There have been more detentions and reports of mistreatment, and the authorities are now going after parents who either bring their children to the demonstrations or allow them to take part, the sociologist says.

            The regime has been working hard to efface graffiti in support of the demonstrators and to pull down white-red-white flags which have become the symbol of the Belarusians in the streets. There have been cases when officials ordered to take down these flags have refused to do so.

            Those taking part in demonstrations say their most important task is to show to everyone that they are numerous and the defenders of the regime are few. And they say they will continue to protest as long as others do even if it costs them their jobs, something they fear will leave them with little time for public activity.

            According to Shelest, “the majority of our respondents are certain that those forms of pressure on the Coordination Council that the regime has chosen are not effective, even though its members are either in detention with the exception of Svetlana Aleksiyevich or have been forced to move abroad. 

            Most Belarusian demonstrators also say that they are largely “indifferent” to what other countries are doing with respect to Lukashenka. They say that Belarusians must decide their fate. They hope that Russia will ultimately side with the people against the dictator, and they hope that Western countries will make clear their antipathy towards Lukashenka.

Ethnically and Socially Homogeneous Regions in Russia May Follow Belarusian Example, Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 18 – The Belarusian protests have arisen in the way that they have become their country is “ethnically and socially” homogeneous, Arina Dmitriyeva says. In those parts of Russia which share that characteristic such as the Russian North and Far Eastern cities like Khabarovsk, s similar course of events is entirely possible.

            The Belarusian sociologist who was forced to leave her country because of political repression and now works at the European University in St. Petersburg says that where such homogeneity is lacking, the rise of protests is less likely or even almost impossible (severreal.org/a/30842654.html).

            Even in those parts of Belarus, such as rural areas where the sense of homogeneity is lacking, protests have been harder to organize and smaller. The same thing is likely to be true in Russian cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg and Russian regions that are significantly less homogeneous in their populations.

            “Khabarovsk is quite monoethnic,” Dmitriyeva says, as are many parts of the Russian North. Such uniformity not only means that residents feel much the same way about any given issue as do their neighbors but that it is easier for people to come together and protest.  Where that commonality is lacking, so too is the likelihood of large protests.

            Having returned from Belarus where she was an election observer and then a participant in protests in her native Hrodno, the sociologist also says that there are still people there who support Lukashenka “but there are no supporters of the use of force” against the Belarusian people.

            At the same time, she adds, “the supporters of Lukashenka are now so few that they do not express their position.” Those who are neutral in the contest between the dictator and the streets exist, and some of them are concerned that the ouster of Lukashenka will only make things worse.

            Dmitriyeva says that “repressive regimes which encounter street protests are highly likely to be replaced in the course of a year or two.” That has been true in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Unfortunately, sometimes they are replaced by even less democratic or more totalitarian ones.

            One reason for optimism in Belarus is that the population is united and mobilized. In 2010, only about 50,000 people came into the streets. Now, 250,000 do on a regular basis. “This is a big difference” almost certain to play a major role in the future course of events, she concludes.

Russian Nationalism Remains Trapped in Paradigm of ‘Russian Party’ within CPSU in 1970s, Savvin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 18 – Russian nationalism today is at the very earliest stages of its development because those who identify with it remain trapped in the paradigm promoted by the so-called Russian Party within the CPSU in the 1970s and view the defense of Sovietism as the basis of their ideas rather than as completely antithetical to them, Dimitry Savvin says.

            Instead of developing as nationalisms did in other former Soviet republics, Russian nationalism, the editor of the Riga-based Harbin portal says, has remained trapped in that worldview in large part because Russian nationalists lack the historical memory needed to overcome and go beyond it (harbin.lv/neizlechennye-yazvy-russkogo-natsionalizma).

            That in turn reflects the fact that Russian nationalism does not have institutions like the OUN in Ukraine or the Roman Catholic Church in Lithuania which kept national traditions alive under the Soviets or the kind of leaders like Bandera or Stetsko who influenced not only their own generation but future ones.

            And because of these two shortcomings, Russian nationalism also lacks the cadres of people who can help shape each rising generation. “Everywhere except Russia,” Savvin argues, there are people who were part of the earlier movements who remain influential to the present day.

            This in turn means that Russian nationalism has no common myth or program, that those who identify as its followers agree on nothing except that Russia has been a victim and are ready to have supporters of Nicholas II march alongside those who murdered the Imperial Family and sought to eliminate Russian traditions.

            What is one view now is this: Russian nationalism today descends not from the White Movement or Krasnov and Vlasov or from the Russian nationalists of the post-war period but rather from “the still born ‘Russian party’ within the CPSU” which sought to combine in “hybrid fashion” Soviet patriotism and the values of historic Russia.

            That attempt meant that “’the Russites’” within the party and beyond “never rose to the level of national communists which were able to successfully come to power in certain republics of the USSR.” Indeed, the last serious effort to create “a nationally Russian communist party” ended in 1949.

            According to Savvin, “the lack of experience of widescale political work, experience which the national communists in Lithuania had, for example, deprived [the Russian nationalist wannabes] of the chance to form a comparatively adequate understanding of Russian national interests in practice.”

            After 1991, some Russian nationalists were able to partially overcome these shortcomings by focusing on the Russian nationalist underground in the USSR and in the emigration. But that effort failed largely because “’national interests’ for ‘the Russian party’ in the CPSI were always equated with the interests of the Soviet state.”

            Today, because of the neo-Sovietism of the Putin regime, those who style themselves Russian nationalists are becoming ever more trapped in that paradigm than even were those of the 1990s. In short, the Riga-based Russian conservative commentator says, the situation has deteriorated over the last 30 years.

            Russian nationalism today, Savvin continues, must be viewed as being at the very earliest stage of its development, not because there were not important developments in the past but because today’s nationalists are ignorant of them and have not been willing to move beyond the limits of Soviet patriotism.

            There are many possible ways forward international experience suggests, that of Ataturk in Turkey, Sun Yat-sen in China, and nationalist leaders in Greece and Spain to name but three. But there are several steps that all Russian nationalists must take if Russian nationalism is to become something serious.

            On the one hand, they must recognize that Sovietism and Russian nationalism cannot be equated but are antithetical. And on the other, they must reject things like “the cult of ‘the Great Fatherland War’” which the Kremlin today is promoting. They must oppose not only the Soviet past but those in the Kremlin who are seeking to bring it back. 

More than 60 Percent of Russians Consider Their Country Unjust, New Survey Finds

Russians Consider Their Country Unjust, New Survey Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 18 – According to a new Public Opinion Foundation poll, 61 percent of Russians say that their country has an unjust social system and 53 percent add that they believe the system in the last decades of Soviet power was more just than the one they live in now (https://media.fom.ru/fom-bd/d37spr2020.pdf).

            At the same time, 42 percent say they believe the state of social justice in Europe is worse than in Russia, and 27 percent say that the system in Russia today is more just than was that in the 1970s and 1980s.  But while a majority says things have gotten better in the last three or four years, 25 percent say they believe the situation has deteriorated over that period.

            Thirty percent of the sample says pensioners suffer from injustice the most while 10 percent say working class Russians do. Smaller shares pointed to the difficulties young people, invalids, large families, single mothers, the middle class, and children in general now suffer as evidence of injustice.

            Asked what Russians should do about this, 14 percent said they should display greater social initiative, and eight percent said that they must behave more justly and live according to existing laws.

            The POF is closely tied to the Kremlin and so did not explore whether Russians believe that the current regime is responsible for the rise of injustice or whether they think that the government must change course, but with three out of five saying Russia is now an unjust society, many must certainly feel that way. 

Underfinancing of Health Care More than Pandemic Explains Super-High Mortality in Russia, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 18 – Since the start of this year, the Kremlin has sought to blame all the problems Russia is suffering from, including demographic ones, on the pandemic; but a new study argues that super-high mortality rates even this year have less to do with the coronavirus than with underfunding of the healthcare system, the result of Putin’s “optimization” program.

            Using Rosstat data, Guzel Ulumbekova and Arishti Ginoyan of the Higher School of Economics show that only 24 percent of the additional deaths in 2020 as compared to 2019 are directly or indirectly linked to the pandemic and suggest that many of those deaths could have been avoided if the healthcare system was in better shape (nakanune.ru/articles/116371/).

            The Russian figure is especially striking in comparison with the explanation for additional mortality in the United States and the United Kingdom. There, 76 percent and 84 percent respectively of the additional deaths this year are directly related to the pandemic, the two Moscow scholars say.

            Overall mortality has risen in Russia this year from 12.4 cases per 1,000 population to 13.0, 15 percent higher than in the “new” countries of Europe and 30 percent higher than in “old Europe. As a result, life expectancy in Russia has fallen to 4.4 years lower than in the former group of countries and nine years lower than in the latter.

            Consequently, the low death rates from the coronavirus Moscow has taken so much pride in have the effect of highlighting the overall shortcomings of the Russian medical system and of the social system in which it is embedded. Russia spends just over half as much per capita as the “new” European countries do and only slightly more than a quarter of what “old” Europe does.

 

Kremlin Fears Second Wave of Pandemic Could Destroy Russian Economy

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 18 – As coronavirus infections and deaths continue to rise (t.me/COVID2019_official/1524), many Russians fear a second wave of the pandemic is starting (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/09/18/87143-vozvraschenie-korony-oblozhka-dnya) and Kremlin officials reportedly fear this could destroy Russia’s economy (svpressa.ru/society/article/276267/).  

            On the one hand, officials are trying to be upbeat and continue to say there will not be any repetition of the earlier restrictions (ura.news/news/1052450373 and regnum.ru/news/3067924.html); but on the other, ever more senior officials are saying Russians must wear masks and maintain social distancing to avoid a second wave (ura.news/articles/1036281132).

            The pandemic continued to ebb and flow across the country, with the most obvious closings being schools which are shutting down in many regions despite Moscow’s pledge that the country isn’t going to go back to distance learning (regnum.ru/news/society/3064298.html, regnum.ru/news/3067430.html, regnum.ru/news/3067174.html, regnum.ru/news/3067428.html and regnum.ru/news/3067174.html).

            Despite the closings which have hit higher educational institutions harder than any others, foreign students have appealed to Moscow to reverse its decision not  to allow them to return to Russia to study (novayagazeta.ru/news/2020/09/18/164351-inostrannye-studenty-poprosili-pravitelstvo-razreshit-im-vernutsya-v-rossiyu-i-prodolzhit-obuchenie).

            Controversy continues over the Sputnik 5 vaccine, with its producers saying those who have been inoculated suffering from only minor side effects, while scholars are pointing to more fundamental problems involving both safety and effectiveness (sovsekretno.ru/news/direktor-tsentra-gamalei-rasskazal-o-neznachitelnykh-pobochnykh-effektakh-ot-vaktsiny-protiv-covid-1/ and regnum.ru/news/3067868.html).

            The big news today is that the health ministry has approved for over-the-counter sale two medications that help limit the impact of coronavirus infections, but happiness about that has been tempered by the fact that the cost of these medications price them beyond the ability of many Russians to use them (regnum.ru/news/3067794.html, ria.ru/20200917/koronavirus-1577408918.html and kommersant.ru/doc/4494232).

            Because the pandemic continues to affect the economy, the economic development ministry is currently discussing extending the ban on bankruptcies which has been in place since April 2020. If it is, that will hide some of the carnage among businesses for a time (regnum.ru/news/3067727.html).

            Rosstat reported that Russians in poverty had increased during the second quarter largely because of the pandemic to nearly 20 million people or 13.5 percent of the population (rosstat.gov.ru/folder/313/document/99486). Banks reported an upsurge of cash transfers abroad, but this may not mean what it appears.

            Instead of indicating that immigrant workers are making more money and sending it home, it may simply show that people who have been working in Russia are sending money abroad to purchase goods or in preparation for leaving the country (rusmonitor.com/migranty-vyveli-rekordnuyu-summu-deneg-iz-rossii.html).

            Moscow did announce that it will be resuming flights over the next week to Kirgizstan, Kazakhstan, Belarus and South Korea (regnum.ru/news/3067929.html).

            Meanwhile, in other pandemic-related developments in Russia today,

·         Consumer protection officials said that there was no basis for fears that the coronavirus was being transmitted via fruits and vegetables (regnum.ru/news/3067202.html).

·         Moscow officials said Russians had spent more than 10 billion rubles (130 million US dollars) on spurious cures for the virus since February (og.ru/ru/news/114632). They also reported that interior ministry investigators are having a hard time identifying the fake certificates of non-infection some Russians have been buying online (theins.ru/obshestvo/234944).

·         Russian prison officials say only 1224 inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus, but prisoner rights activists say the real number is far higher and have called for an amnesty lest those jailed suffer and die from the pandemic. Moscow so far has proved deaf to such proposals (ridl.io/ru/posledstvija-pandemii-v-rossijskih-tjurmah/).